On a warm, sunny spring day, Norwalk Public Schools (NPS) Family Center formally opened. Elementary students from Wolfpit Arts Magnet School sang the snappy “My Shot” from Broadway’s “Hamilton.” Dignitaries spoke. One teenager from Norwalk Next Steps, a community-based life and job skills development program for 18-22 year-old- students, stood before the crowd of 100 to sing “God Bless America.” There was a moment when she faltered. Softly, someone from the back of the audience joined in. Soon enough all were singing – a good metaphor for the Family Center, a place to support each child’s song.
The NPS Family Center is located on 1 Park Street near the historic Norwalk Green, convenient to city bus lines. Its focus: to ensure families equitable access to district resources and programs. “We are building a team approach to enrollment and programs, language and academic services, and student wellness in ONE location,” said NPS Superintendent Dr. Alexandra Estrella.
Norwalk Public Schools serves over 11,700 students in 21 schools. Each year, nearly 2,100 students enter NPS to begin or continue their academic journeys.
All school registrations for enrollment in NPS and all NPS lotteries are now entered at the Family Center hub. Ralph Valenzisi, Assistant Superintendent of Digital Learning and Innovation, said, “Fewer hands on inputting information standardizes the registration, making the data cleaner.” Cleaner data, in turn, makes the enrollment process more efficient.
Families who need help enrolling their children will find it at the center. The district’s MultiLingual Learner (MLL) Welcome Center is now under the same roof, offering language assessments and assistance with school placements. During my recent visit to the center, three groups of parents walked through the process with family representatives, who entered the families’ profile information, and helped them gather documents for NPS registration. A Norwalk family registered their child for kindergarten. The other two families came from other countries. The center’s bilingual family representatives and Frances Saez, the center’s lead, welcomed and guided them. Those children underwent language assessment moments after registration to determine eligibility for bilingual services. One Colombian mom surprised us by sharing that she and her family had arrived in Norwalk only 10 days before.
In collaboration with the Norwalk Health Center, a mobile clinic conducts school physicals every Thursday, and gives required vaccinations for students in kindergarten, and 6th- and 9th-graders to prepare for the new school year. The plan is to have an on-site clinic five days a week. The eventual goal is to build a cycle of community-based agencies at the Family Center, to enhance NPS services with Norwalk community services, adding support for students and families in areas such as housing and mental health care.
NPS Transportation informs parents about eligibility, routes, and bus stops. Food services help parents enroll in free or reduced lunch programs. NPS Technology Depot distributes laptops and Chromebooks to students and staff, and replaces devices.
Homey by design, the building is conducive to wandering, encouraging both parents and children to visit each department.
Couches and chairs in nooks and crannies offer perches where families can relax and watch as children play with the center’s toys. In the cozy atmosphere of the Family Center there is a feeling of one-stop shopping for all educational needs.
[email protected] For more information: 203.854.4100
The next MY DAY will examine the programs in Norwalk Neighborhood Schools and Magnet Schools, their themes and pathways supporting student interests from elementary through middle and high school.
All BoE meetings are public. Workshop meetings occur on the first Tuesday of the month when educational partners give presentations. Business meetings occur on the third Tuesday of each month when issues are voted on. Public comment is always welcome. Click here for the link to the calendar for all meetings including BoE committee meetings.
This is a journalistic tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt’s MY DAY periodic column in which she pulled back the curtain, sharing her perspective on experiences she had in the White House. Mary Ellen Flaherty-Ludwig is a Norwalk Board of Education member, representing District E. [email protected]
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