Faced with a population from 26 different countries, of 70 percent English as a second language families and of 45 percent on or below the poverty level, Crestwood principal Pat Zissios has concentrated on making the homes productive environments that directly affects students classroom lessons. It was that reasoning that inspired her to create Crestwood Family Resource Center, a training facility for families and seniors in the Crestwood area.
Recently, the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals presented Zissios with the School Bell Award, which recognized her efforts in working with local churches and organizations to create an educational center that serves the whole community, particularly low-income families.
The Crestwood Family Center consists of classes aimed at improving parental and senior skills with such classes as English as a second language, computer, job skills training, parenting and legal aid to low-income families. Zissios looks at it as direct benefits for the parents, which indirectly affects the children.
"By strengthening the families, the parents are able to provide for their children and the children are better prepared to learn," Zissios said. "These parents are now involved."
"She did the work," said school board member Chris Braunlich. "It's a terrific effort on her part. She's turned the school back into the center of the Crestwood community again."
"Pat is credited with working with the community and businesses," said cluster director Betsy Benske. "All the right ingredients came together at the right time."
Although Groveton Elementary has shown interest in adopting a similar program, Fenske was not aware of any county school that has incorporated the same level of involvement.
FAMILY CENTER CLASSES are taught in a single trailer behind Crestwood Elementary or in the unused classrooms during school hours. The one trailer is leftover from when the school was renovated. During the day, the classes meet in the SAC (school aged child care) classrooms.
"I think we've made a great difference," Zissios said. "We have more seniors coming in as readers [reading assistants] and tutors with children."
Grants, donations, in-kind contributions [services and facilities that are currently in place] and volunteers. The only cost to the Fairfax County Public Schools is the use of facilities. Nineteen private organizations contribute as well.
Zissios was recognized along with Rima Vesilind, principal of Woodley Hills Elementary and Susan Alexander, SASI operator and registrar at Shrevewood Elementary. They will be recognized at the Annual Principals Conference on Oct. 23-24, in Williamsburg, Va.