(June 6, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with Karen Corbett Sanders, Vice Chair of the FCPS School Board, representing the Mt. Vernon district. She represents a diverse district, which stretches from the Potomac River in the east, through the Rt. 1 Corridor, into Springfield and across to the Occoquan River. Some of the schools in her district are amongst the poorest in the county, with poverty rates as high at 90% in some places. These conditions put additional stresses on school personnel, and often require a different approach to ensure that each child in her district is getting an excellent education, no matter what their family background is or where they live.
Karen Corbett Sanders opened the conversation talking about the needs of students who come from some of the most vulnerable communities within her district. She mentions the importance of providing “wrap-around” social services to students, to ensure that they have enough food to eat, clothing to keep them warm, and access to healthcare. In order for students to have the best opportunity to succeed, Corbett Sanders argues that we must invest in a strong support system for both students and their families. She points to literacy as a specific challenge for many families. In order for parents to stay up to date and in tune with their children, let alone be able to help them with homework at night, it is important that all families have access to literacy education. The Literacy Council of Northern Virginia is making great strides in helping parents learn the language skills they need, so they can more fully and equitably participate in the community.
Corbett Sanders is proud of the One Fairfax Policy, adopted by both the Board of Supervisors and the FCPS School Board on July 12, 2016. It is a joint social and racial equity policy that commits the county and schools to intentionally consider equity when making policies or delivering programs and services. It is a written declaration that all citizens deserve an equitable opportunity to succeed if they work hard, regardless of their race, color, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or where they live. One Fairfax is a framework that will be used to consider equity in decision-making and in the development and delivery of future policies, programs and services. It is designed to help county and school leaders look intentionally, comprehensively and systematically at barriers that may be creating gaps in opportunity. Corbett-Sanders states that the adoption of this policy helps those in charge understand that there must be a different approach in a school community that has a 90% poverty rate vs. a school that has a 1.8% poverty rate.
In the second segment of the show Catherine speaks with Karen Corbett Sanders about the program GrandInvolve. This is a unique public-private partnership that puts retired educators in Title I elementary schools to volunteer and help give back to their community. GrandInvolve has been recognized by the Governor as one of the top volunteer organizations in the state, and has had great success here in Fairfax County. The seniors serve as role models for the students, many of whom do not have Grandparents who live in the United States. The seniors bring a fresh, new perspective to the classroom and help support one-on-one learning with students. It is truly a win-win for teachers, students and the senior volunteers.
Another new pilot program that Karen Corbett Sanders mentions involves placing police officers in the school cafeterias, where the officers are helping students in the lunch line, and getting to know them. Often times, children only see police officers in a bad or difficult situation. This type of partnership helps to build relationships and teach children that police officers are really there to help them, not hurt or punish them.
Corbett Sanders is also very proud of a new initiative that is being rolled out to all FCPS students called the Passport to Mt. Vernon. This would allow free access for county students to Mt. Vernon, Gunston Hall, Gum Springs Museum and Woodlawn Plantation. We have such a rich source of history right here in Fairfax County, but our students who are the poorest and most vulnerable do not have access to these sights because they cannot afford the entrance fees. By offering free access, they are hoping to open up doors to those who were otherwise shut out. She also highlights the Bus Pass program, now in its third year. This offers any 7th-12th grader a free bus pass for the Connector Bus or the Q Bus in Fairfax City. Free access to public transportation allows students to get around independently after school or during the summer. They can travel locally to go to part time jobs, summer camps or the library. Corbett-Sanders is encouraged by the work being done between county and school board leaders to think outside the box and come up with workable solutions to help our most vulnerable residents.