She had to come up with an idea for how to use $10,000 at her school and compete for the money with the two other teachers, one representing Montrose County middle schools and the other from county high schools. Simo was the Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
Simo’s idea, to create a resource room for parents, was the winner, and an old classroom will now be refitted and have its grand opening on Oct. 19.
All that will remain in the room are the cabinets lining one wall, but it will not resemble an elementary school classroom, Simo said. The room will have a couch, TV, three computer terminals, adult size desks, and possibly a shower and laundry facilities. Details of just how far the money will stretch are still being worked out.
This is the first time the foundation has attached a cash competition to the Teacher of the Year awards, and all three entries were from “fabulous classroom teachers,” said Dale Davidson, foundation president.
“Northside has a higher at-risk population, and a family resource room is going to be so valuable,” he said. “It helps bring the school back into the center of the community, a useful place for parents to go and support their kids’ learning.”
The Montrose School District was hoping to build a new family resource center for the entire district, Davidson said, but didn’t receive the $5 million grant it applied for.
“Unfortunately, we were not successful in getting the grant funds, but schools have always been a center of the community, and people have always gone to schools for support and information,” he said. “The concept of a family resource center is to take that historical and institutional knowledge and bring it to a central location where parents can bring their kids.”
The foundation is still looking at ways to involve families more with schools, he said, but Northside is a start.
“The concept is beautiful, as is Jamie’s plan for implementation, and we are still looking at a [district-wide] family resource center as a good idea. But how to get it done in terms of the economics we have is challenging,” he said.
The new Parents Resource Room at Northside will just be for Northside parents. The school serves a predominantly low-income population, said Principal Cara Godbe, with 80 percent of students on free and reduced lunch schedules.
“Our goal is to continue to build a sense of community, a hang-out spot for parents,” she said.
More than that, the new center will also be a place of learning, where parents can get training on how to use the computers so they can keep up with their children’s progress through the district’s online Parent’s Portal. The school will also use part of the money to buy language programs in both English and Spanish from Rosetta Stone. The room will also be a resource for clothing, toiletries and grocery staples that some families can’t afford.
Northside has had help from the community already, particularly volunteers from First Presbyterian Church, which has “adopted” the school, Simo said.
“We will do a lot of planning and work with the Northside Clinic and volunteers from First Presbyterian, and down the road there could be classes and training offered.”
The resource room will also be a place where parents can do things to help teachers that they wouldn’t be able to do in the classroom if they had younger children in tow, Simo said, since there will be a kids’ area with toys and games.
“If the teacher needs stars cut out and the parent has a 3-year-old, they can go to the Parents’ Resource Room and we will have toys and educational activities for kids in a play area,” she said.
Simo said there are “a billion ideas” for how to improve classrooms, from technology to books, but the Parents Resource Room will meet other needs that will help families and, in the process, help the kids do better in school.
The room will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each weekday and details on the resource room will go to parents in the schools’ October newsletter.
Simo and Godbe said they have been brainstorming about ways to measure the success of the room once it’s operational so they can report back to the foundation at the end of the school year. Simo predicts success.
“It sounds clichéd, but I am blessed to work at this school with this staff and am so grateful to the education foundation,” she said. “I’m honored and nervous to be the first recipient, and I want to knock their socks off.”