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USD 428 hires school-community liaisons
Family Engagement Coordinators offer another link to schools
Great Bend USD 428’s new Family Engagement Coordinators introduced themselves to the school board Monday evening. They are, from left: Haley Kercher, Kylynn Keeler, Alex Westhoff, Rachel Keenan, Jesus Loera Jr., Taylor Gobin and Saylem Ryff. - photo by Susan Thacker

Family Engagement Coordinators are connecting schools with families at Great Bend USD 428.

Schools have their own cultures and rules, which can be pretty confusing – for the parents. Now Great Bend public schools have hired someone to help families get any information they need. The seven new Family Engagement Coordinators – one at each Great Bend USD 428 school – are also there to help families get involved in their children’s schools and education.

The new positions were approved for 2021-2022 by the school board last April. The money for these additional employees comes from federal Education Stabilization Funds specifically intended to alleviate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seven new employees introduced themselves at Monday’s school board meeting. Each spoke briefly about his or her work to date.

Haley Kercher at Jefferson Elementary has been working on communication with families via email and text messages. She is organizing a family night at the zoo at the end of September.

Kylynn Keeler is at Lincoln Elementary. She has been getting information up on social media, including posting the names and faces of new staff. She’s also working on setting up a family picnic.

Alex Westhoff at Riley has been working on social media and the school website. She’s also been making sure the school has the correct phone numbers and email addresses for contacting families.

“Another big thing that I’ve been working on is just getting resources for our families,” Westhoff said. On Monday, for example, she helped a family find reading resources that the children could work on at home.

Rachel Keenan is at Park Elementary. In addition to being on social media, she’s been working on a grandparents program for older community members who want to read to students or work in the school garden with them.

Jesus Loera Jr. at Great Bend High School had several things to share. He’s been helping GBHS Attendance Coordinator Carla Martinez get information to and from the homes – “anything from Chromebooks to assignments or any other material that the students need from the school,” he said. They’ve even picked up a couple of students who for various reasons needed help getting to school. “If they want to be there, we’ll find a way to get them there,” he said.

He’s also working with school nurse Emily Young, making sure students in quarantine get their school materials and turn them in. And he’s picked a few students that aren’t involved in anything and encouraged them to get involved in activities, clubs or sports.

“And then finally, (we’re) putting together our Skyward Support Night that we’ll be doing here, hopefully in early October. That’s mainly to help educate the guardians on how to navigate Skyward (the schools’ online information portal), especially if they don’t understand what is. It may not be a language barrier, but it could be just, they don’t know how to get on the website and monitor the student’s academic progress. So they’ll have an opportunity to come and visit with us and we’ll show them how to navigate through there and find the information they need so that they can also be aware of how the students are performing in the classroom.”

Taylor Gobin is at Eisenhower Elementary, which means she also serves families at Little Panthers Preschool. She’s started a school newsletter and has been in contact with families under quarantine.

Saylem Ryff is at Great Bend Middle School. She’s been doing a lot of social media and started a newsletter for each Core at GBMS, as well as a building-wide newsletter.

“I’ve also been contacting a lot of our quarantine students' families and making sure that they know that assignments are still available on Google Classroom, making sure that they have the resources that they need to access that,” she said.

She’s also been offering a lot of technical support for Skyward users, and has been letting students and families know about the activities and clubs that are getting underway. She helped make arrangements for one student to get a physical so he could participate in football.

“Another student that I just worked with today wants to do one of the after-school art clubs but just wasn’t sure how she was going to get home, so we were able to make arrangements for that,” Ryff continued.

They’re also working on an open house at the school on Sept. 21. In the past, parents have come to the school and visited rooms according to their students’ schedules. “We’ve completely done away with that this year. Instead, we are going to just open it up and focus on meeting parents and greeting parents, and giving them the information that they might need to contact, ask questions, those kinds of things.”

Ryff shared an example of recent contact with a student who was home on quarantine.

“I advised the parent that assignments are being uploaded to Google Classroom. So if the student was able to, we’re encouraging them to continue working so that it’s not so overwhelming when they come back. And she kind of laughed and said, ‘Huh! He told me that we’re not doing anything online any more!’ But she was very appreciative because she probably wouldn’t have known.”

Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser said this program is “just getting started,” but the coordinators are “great communicators.”

Board member Lori Reneau praised the initiative.

“I just want to say this is amazing,” she said. “You don’t know how many times I’ve heard people in the community saying, ‘Well, I didn’t know this about my school.’ For you guys to be the point of contact is great.”

A contact for families facing quarantine due to COVID is especially important, she said. “They feel very isolated and left out, so that is awesome that you are doing that.”