IT TAKES A VILLAGE
June 26, 2012
Rosita Gonzalez is a big believer in the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. She has worked to build a stronger village at her school, making it easier for families with transportation issues or limited English to feel like a part of the community.
A mother of two, Gonzalez spends generous amounts of time volunteering in classrooms or the library at Thoreau Elementary in Madison, Wis. In the 2011-12 school year, she upped the ante by assuming the mantle of PTO president.
She's also the driving force behind Thoreau's after-school enrichment program, which initially faced a big hurdle. As there was no late bus, after-school clubs were virtually closed off to kids who had no other means of transportation home. "I thought that was awful because they want to stay and socialize with their friends in a somewhat structured but more casual, less academic environment," Gonzalez says.
No district money was available for additional buses, so Gonzalez made a plea to the parent community and teachers. "Basically I said we're not having these after-school programs unless everybody can participate." Her firm stance led to a convoy of minivans being assembled and extra seats being offered in assorted cars so that every child, no matter what their socioeconomic background, has access to the free programs, which have included Latin dance, a math club, and an introduction to computer programming. "It doesn't matter if the child in your car is a friend of your child's or not. It's that 'village' idea. We all have a role to play for every child," she says.
Gonzalez's efforts to make sure everyone is included at Thoreau don't stop with the kids. Not content to see only the usual group of parents turn up at PTO meetings, she arranges rides for those with transportation issues and always has child care and Spanish translation available. The school recently held its first National African-American Parent Involvement Day, as well. "I want the lines to blur and for everyone to feel like they're a part of things," she says.
Thoreau Elementary presents its own particular set of challenges. It is situated in a very affluent area, yet the poverty level of its student body hovers somewhere around 57 percent. Gonzalez was behind a snow pants drive this year that resulted in donations of 200 pairs of pants from both private and business entities. She has also succeeded in lining up corporate sponsorship to pay for food handed out to homeless students at the end of the day.
"Our community flourishes when all our kids feel that they are a special part of our school village," she says. Making it easier for their parents to get involved is crucial, too. Tell Gonzalez something can't be done and she'll show you a way it can. In the process, she's setting an example for her own two children: "If I can teach my children to care for everyone, then that builds a brighter future for our community years down the road."
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Brent Nicastro