Although Tamara Roark Shoup is not a teacher, her work for Washington’s Vancouver Public Schools helps students in an essential way.
As the district’s director of family engagement, Shoup oversees a growing network of school-based Family-Community Resource Centers. The centers are in 18 of the district’s 35 schools, all of which have 60 percent to 90 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals. Shoup’s team works with principals, teachers, and staff to help families meet basic needs.
“Mobility, inadequate medical and dental care, mental health and behavioral health issues, lack of affordable housing, homelessness, and unmet basic needs are just some of the barriers to learning that thousands of our students face,” Shoup says. “We identify and break down those barriers to needed resources and supports so students can be in class ready to learn, and so teachers can focus on their role as instructional leaders.”
Vancouver adopted the Community Schools model, which uses the public schools as a hub for health and social services for children and their families.
Shoup says community schools “create a two-generation system of support by offering wraparound support for the whole family.” Examples of this in Vancouver include onsite dental care; mental, behavioral, and chemical dependency counseling; a weekly food backpack program and fresh food pantries; and a city-wide school supply drive.
Since 2010, Vancouver’s students have made tremendous gains in literacy and in honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate class enrollment. More than half of the district’s recent graduates are enrolled in dual credit courses in high school. Vancouver now has an on-time graduation rate of more than 80 percent, with the greatest gains made by Latino and African-American students.
“A strong public education system is necessary to tackle the complex social issues facing our nation,” Shoup says. “I am proud to work for a school district that recognizes the important role parents play in supporting student learning.”