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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

 

Case Narrative

I Went to camp.
I Went on a horse
I like Horses.
My mom Love
Horses.

- Cindy Potter (Willow School second grade portfolio)

Perspectives on Cindy and Her Mother

Nikki, Cindy's Teacher
Nikki, a second grade teacher in a large town, was grocery shopping after school when she noticed her student Cindy playing unsupervised in the parking lot near the photo-processing store where her mother worked. Although Nikki felt this to be a safe and peaceful community, she nevertheless felt some concern. Cindy was skipping around, peering into car mirrors, waving frantically to anyone who exited the store.

Nikki was accustomed to thinking a lot about all the needs of her students. She worked at Willow School, a small K–6 school offering a safe, caring, and nurturing environment for students and families. The school looked holistically at the needs of its students and helped them with a range of needs, sometimes even with clothing or food. The principal, Ed, expected his teachers to be advocates for the kids in their classrooms.

Nikki had been working hard with Cindy over the course of the school year to improve her social skills and help her to be more compliant in the school setting. If Cindy could learn to be less impulsive, she could focus better on her academics; if she could learn to make appropriate social overtures to her peers, she would feel better about herself, and even feel more confident in her learning. To Nikki’s way of thinking, helping Cindy develop socially was a critical key to unlocking improved reading and math performance.

This teaching case is featured in the book Preparing Educators to Involve Families: From Theory to Practice, available for purchase from Sage Publications at www.sagepub.com/book.aspx?pid=10625.

Enriching after school experiences were a fundamental ingredient in this formula. If Cindy’s out-of-school time could reinforce the work Nikki was doing in the classroom with her around social skill building, Nikki was convinced that Cindy would see academic gains at school. Nikki saw her community as rich in after school opportunities for elementary school children, many providing a context for social skills development. There were programs in the arts, a vast number of athletic programs offered through the Recreation Department, and programs through Youth Services such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Nikki wished more than anything that Cindy could be involved in soccer. A big strong girl with lots of energy and enthusiasm, it would do Cindy a world of good to be part of a team, learn the rules of the game, and have to listen to her coach. It would also be wonderful if Cindy could have a Big Sister. Nikki could just imagine Cindy, such a loving child, throwing her arms around a Big Sister and smothering her with kisses.

Although filled with love, Nikki felt that Cindy’s home life was not an easy one. She viewed Cindy’s mother Marla as a low-income single mom with a good heart, wanting the best for her daughter educationally, but perhaps lacking the parenting skills and motivation to follow through on good intentions. To Nikki, Marla seemed overwhelmed with life: trying to discipline and control an admittedly difficult child; recovering from a series of unhealthy partner relationships; and coordinating Cindy’s after school life when she changed job hours or jobs, or managed two jobs at once. Nikki questioned the quality of the out-of-school life that Cindy had with her mother: Mostly, she heard reports that they spent time watching videos that to Nikki seemed appropriate only for grown-ups.

Despite all the times during the year that Nikki had suggested after school opportunities for Cindy, Marla never once followed up on any of these suggestions. Before Cindy took home her copy of the school newsletter every month, Nikki always circled all the listings of community enrichment activities. She also had made a point of discussing after school activities with Marla in the parent–teacher conference. Still, Marla didn’t seem to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities for Cindy in the community. Nikki just wasn’t sure how to get Cindy, or those kids like her with parents like Marla, involved in after school activities. All this was very frustrating to Nikki. Meanwhile, Cindy was on her own in the parking lot. In the recent past, Nikki had also seen Cindy playing around inside the photo-processing store and felt it was an unhealthy environment for the child, what with all those chemicals. Plus, it just couldn’t be much fun for her.

As you read this case, consider applying the following theoretical lenses to your analysis:

  • School-Based Family Support: What strengths does Marla bring to supporting her daughter’s growth and development? In what ways do Nikki and the school counselor view Marla in deficit terms? How might they empower Marla, building on her strengths and needs, in supporting her after school planning?

  • Community Roles: To what extent does the community support and promote families’ involvement in their children’s education and development? What are the ways that the community offers protective factors that promote children’s resiliency?

  • Social Executive Functioning: How can the school serve as an executive functionary for children needing after school care, managing and organizing information coming into and going out of the school, and coordinating with families?

 

Marla, Cindy’s Mother
As Marla worked her shift at the photo-processing store, she edged to the window from time to time to check on Cindy outside. Again, an after school family day care arrangement had collapsed, and Marla had had no choice but to bring Cindy along to work for the past few weeks. This one had closed because the provider moved out of town. In the prior arrangement, Marla had withdrawn Cindy from the provider’s home for a few weeks, concerned that conditions in the home exacerbated Cindy’s allergies. When Cindy improved, she sent her back, but Marla always felt anxious about it and didn’t know where to turn for reassurance. Other child care arrangements were fraught with their own challenges. At one point a boyfriend’s mother offered after school baby-sitting help, but Marla felt she and the boyfriend were headed for breakup and didn’t want to be obligated to the boyfriend’s mother. All her kin lived in another part of the country, and Marla often felt depressed and bereft without a family safety net. She would’ve loved to have her kinfolk baby-sit. She was divorced from Cindy’s dad, and he was not a part of his daughter’s life.

Marla valued working and harbored some small pride at her ability to stay off welfare, but it was a round-the-clock challenge to raise a child and hold down a job. She worried constantly about how to arrange after school care for her daughter and all the associated logistics. She wondered when Cindy would be old enough to walk with a schoolmate from school to Marla’s job site or directly home. Right now, Marla saw the community as unsafe and lurking with dangers for her daughter—dangerous traffic patterns not far from school, crazy people hanging out on the streets.

More than anything, Marla hoped for a job with hours that would allow her to be home with Cindy in the afternoons. Not that being with Cindy was easy. They lived in a small two-room apartment without much room for Cindy to play. Marla was often frustrated when her daughter came home from school and made a mess, and she frequently lost her temper. In her mind, one big problem was transportation. Marla did not have the money needed to repair or insure her old car. And, unless they had been able to hitch a ride with another family, Marla had had to coax a tired eight-year-old to walk a mile and a half home from her daycare provider when she picked Cindy up at the end of the day. She dreamed about taking Cindy to a big amusement park in a distant state, but as it was, she had to push the laundry in a stroller many blocks to the laundromat.

Marla did enjoy being out of the house with Cindy. Sometimes she walked her to the park. But Marla missed the excursions that she and Cindy used to take as part of their participation in a program for families with preschoolers at the Family Support Place, like the time the group drove to visit a real working farm. Marla had even offered a few times to chaperone one of Cindy’s second grade class trips and ride on the school bus with everyone somewhere. She had hoped to go with the class to a zoo in a nearby city, but although she volunteered, she wasn’t one of the ones selected to chaperone. Cindy’s teacher, Nikki, had asked her on several occasions to come over and visit Cindy at school in the classroom, but somehow Marla just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Marla remembered Nikki mentioning after school programs to her at one point, but it was more than Marla could manage to even think about arranging this. The programs probably cost much more than family day care. And how could she ever pick up Cindy from some program way over on the other side of town without a car? The bus system in the community was slow, practically nonexistent. Marla had tried to save up money to get her old car going again. She had disconnected her phone to avoid those big long distance phone bills from calling her kinfolk, but then it always seemed like Cindy was growing so fast that the money was needed for new clothes and sneakers.

Marla had not graduated from high school, and her school experiences had never been happy ones. But she did trust Nikki, and thought that Willow School was good. She was content to allow the school responsibility for many areas of Cindy’s life. For example, the school had arranged for Cindy to attend Friendship Day Camp over the past two summers, and Cindy had loved the camp.

Cindy
Cindy went from a trot to a gallop around the parking lot, hugging the neck of her horse. Of course, it wasn’t a real horse. But she imagined she was on the horse she learned to ride on at camp last summer. That was so much fun then.

Today it just felt like everyone was telling her “No.” This morning when she went to get another breakfast donut, her mom had screamed at her, “No more going inside the cupboards by yourself and making a big mess! You are getting too fat!” Then when she got restless being in her classroom at school and went by herself to the playground, the principal found her and said, “No outside wandering!”

Now she had to be at her mom’s work. Cindy hated it that her mom had to work and couldn’t spend time with her in the afternoons. Cindy really loved being with her mom. Being here was pretty boring, as boring as hanging out at home inside. No other kids and no other horses here. Cindy made her horse stop and slid off. She sighed and climbed onto the hood of a car to rest.

Shellie, Cindy’s School Counselor
Back at school, Shellie the school counselor had hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on her door. The school administered a scholarship fund that allowed some students to attend summer camp, and paperwork deadlines were fast approaching for the camp season. Shellie knew she had a long afternoon of desk work ahead of her.

Shellie had a Master’s degree in Social Work and thought of herself primarily as a coordinator at the school. She helped students and their families get connected to social service help in the community as one part of her job. Shellie had extensive contacts with community service providers. As the other part of her job, Shellie helped teachers and administrators at Willow School identify and work with struggling students. She had had many discussions with Nikki and Ed about Cindy. Shellie also ran a couple of groups for students at school. Cindy was a member of her Social Skills Group and seemed to be enjoying it.

Cindy had attended Friendship Day Camp twice on scholarship. The camp for young boys and girls had a strong one-on-one mentoring component with a focus on social skills development. Shellie and Cindy’s classroom teachers knew that the camp counselors worked on appropriate social overtures with Cindy and were pleased for the reinforcement this provided Cindy over the summers. Her teachers noticed that there had been no backsliding come the fall, as they might have otherwise expected with Cindy. And Shellie knew that Cindy had enjoyed herself tremendously, learning to ride a horse and taking outings to recreational sites in the surrounding countryside. It was certainly a quality out-of-school experience for Cindy.

Nevertheless, it was like pulling teeth to get Marla to complete the application process. Although Cindy qualified for a scholarship, there was a small sum for Marla to pay, and it took ages before Cindy came in with the money. Now Marla still hadn’t sent any of the required information to the camp, nor returned Shellie’s three phone messages left for her at the photo-processing store. Shellie started to draft a letter to Marla to remind her to complete her part of the paperwork, or Cindy would not be permitted to attend camp. To Shellie, Marla was a good candidate for a parenting support group. As things stood, Marla didn’t seem to know how to advocate for her child, or indeed what daily practices would support the education of her second grader. Shellie hoped that Marla would come through on the paperwork.

Shellie paused in her typing. She wondered what Cindy was doing right now. Shellie wished she had more resources at her disposal to help kids like Cindy to link them up to appropriate after school activities. This summer camp scholarship was a unique thing; many of the regular community after school activities were simply not affordable for families like Cindy’s. What’s more, there weren’t even any after school activities right here in the school building. Cindy would continue to need the right kind of attention and support throughout the school year to do her best in school.

Ed, the Principal
Ed believed that if a student has a problem, you deal with it. Just this morning, for example, he had to cut short a fairly important telephone call to address an immediate concern in the building. Cindy had wandered out of her classroom again, and her teacher couldn’t locate her. Ed had found her outside on the swings and spent time with her going over some of the Willow School Social Curriculum rules for appropriate behavior.

Sometimes, too, dealing with a student’s problem meant working on the community level. Then the school reached out into the community to find the right kind of help for the child. Ed served on the Board of a local youth organization and enjoyed the connection this provided to the larger community. However, he was concerned about the lack of collaboration across the many community social service agencies, the fighting over turf, and the way the school had to pick up the pieces and coordinate services for a student or their family. Willow School’s biggest challenge now was being expected to do more and more with less and less. Not just academics—but support to children and families—were expected despite diminished resources at the school’s disposal. Thinking about all these responsibilities heaped on the school, Ed wished for more help from the parents and the community. The school could not do it alone.

Ed knew that Shellie, with her “Do Not Disturb” sign on her door this afternoon, was stressed out trying to do it alone. She worked hard on making out-of-school time connections for some of their students. Ed often despaired at the level of parents’ involvement in out-of-school activities with their kids. Although some families would take trips or do educational things with their kids, others simply didn’t have a clue as to what enrichment activities would help their kids excel academically. The school tried to help by providing information about community enrichment activities in its newsletter, but he was sure that a fair number of these backpack-carried newsletters never made it home.

Ed also believed out-of-school activities didn’t necessarily have to be trips to museums or things like that. He recognized that not all families had access to such resources, and that there were many things to do in town that did not cost anything. He believed that a walk in the woods bordering town, looking at the vegetation, or time just spent by parents talking with the child about life experiences, were valuable and necessary lessons. Parents needed to provide the opportunities for children to learn, whether in formal programs or informal family time together. In fact, Ed actually worried that some of the kids were over-scheduled in after school activities—in effect, neglected by their parents. To him, nothing out-of-school was as important as the time parents spent engaged with their children.

Willow Elementary School

Location Rural New England town, population 12,000
Grades served K–6
Enrollment 282, 94% Caucasian
Students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch 38%
Students performing at least 1 year below grade level in reading 26–50%
Students performing at least 1 year below grade level in mathematics 26–50%
School-based services Parenting programs, family counseling and support, student counseling, employment assistance, links to public assistance and social agencies, scholarship money for summer camp
Community out-of-school time programs (sample) Arts programs, recreation department athletic programs, youth services programs such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, family day care, Friendship Day Camp

 

An Encounter Between Parent and Teacher in the Community

Marla was very excited. She had just this moment received a wonderful phone call at the photo-processing store. She had gotten the new job she had applied for: working at the cafeteria at the local hospital. She wanted this job because the hours were perfect, allowing Cindy to spend all her after school time with Marla now. Marla looked across the parking lot and saw Nikki approaching the store. She knew Nikki had a roll of film ready to be picked up. Whenever Nikki came into the store, Marla liked to ask her how Cindy was doing in school. Now she couldn’t wait to tell her about this new job.

For herself, Nikki entered the store with some trepidation. All throughout her errands she had worried about Cindy’s lack of supervision. Nikki wondered whether she should try to say anything briefly to Marla about Cindy’s after school time. Although she felt uncomfortable talking about Cindy’s issues right there in the store, Nikki thought about more forcefully suggesting a formal after school program for Cindy. She could explain that parents could sign up their kids at the Recreation Department at any point during the year. Marla could even sign up tomorrow.

This case was originally presented at the 2002 North American Case Research Association annual meeting, Banff, Canada. We would like to thank Education Track participants for their review of the case. This work was supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of its Research Network on Successful Pathways Through Middle Childhood.

 


Discussion Questions

 

Major Issues

The purpose of this case is to consider the roles of the family, school, and community in promoting children’s learning and development in out-of-school time (OST). The case is designed to help educators reflect upon individual decisions about OST care within the context of community service systems. Specifically, the case focuses on the following:

  • How families negotiate OST arrangements
  • The role of schools in OST arrangements
  • The role of the community in supporting children and families

Describing the Situation

  • How is Marla involved in Cindy’s school and learning?
  • What challenges does Marla face in after school care for Cindy?
  • How does Willow School help the family in OST care provision?

Exploring Contributing Factors

  • What do Willow School personnel see as a key problem in after school care for Cindy, and OST care in general?
  • What are the tradeoffs in Marla’s decision about after school care for Cindy?
  • How do Marla and Nikki’s perspectives on after school care differ?

Articulating Possible Next Steps

  • Assume that, upon entering the photo shop, Nikki suggests a formal after school program for Cindy. How should Marla respond to the suggestion?
  • Assume that Marla tells Nikki about her new job and her desire to have Cindy spend her after school time with her. How should Nikki respond?
  • How might the school support Marla in her after school challenges?
  • How can the community (e.g., businesses, transportation services, after school programs) support low-income parents like Marla?
  • What might an ideal after school arrangement for Cindy look like over the course of a week? How would it respond to the visions and needs of the various actors?

Replaying the Case

  • What could Shellie and Nikki have done differently to help Marla take the steps to secure after school and summer camp spots for Cindy?
  • Describe Ed, the principal’s, views on after school programs. As a leader of the school and in the community, how might he begin to forge more connections between the two contexts? What might be stopping Ed and others from connecting to community services to get some help in reaching out to Marla?

Looking at the Bigger Picture

  • Who holds responsibility for children’s after school care? Identify the opportunities—resources, occasions, and supports—this community provides to children and families.
  • Poverty poses tremendous challenges to Marla’s options in providing OST care for Cindy. What do you imagine Marla’s budget to be—her income for the month and her expenses? What kinds of OST care might she be able to afford under such circumstances?
  • Marla enjoyed her joint participation with Cindy in a community program at the Family Support Place when her daughter was preschool age. What kind of formal after school program in the community can you imagine might appeal to both mother and daughter? In what ways might Cindy’s participation in a formal community after school program bolster Marla’s social support network?

 


Recommended Reading

Harris, E., & Wimer, C. (2004). Engaging with families in out-of-school time learning. Harvard Family Research Project, Cambridge, MA. 

Heath, S. B., & McLaughlin, M. W. (1987). A child resource policy: Moving beyond dependence on school and family. Phi Delta Kappan, 68, 575–580.

Vandell, D. L., & Shumow, L. (1999). After-school child care programs. The Future of Children, 9(2) 64–78.

 


Instructor Notes

To request instructor notes for this teaching case, send an email to FINE at fine@gse.harvard.edu.

 


After School for Cindy Commentary by Cathy Duffy

 

Cathy Duffy, CEO of Girls Inc., New Hampshire

Cindy's mother and school staff both want a quality after school experience for Cindy—whether with her mother or in an after school program. My own experiences leading a statewide Girls Inc., with a staff of 52 and over 12,000 youth age 6–18 served, suggests that a quality after school program could give Cindy self-confidence and long lasting friendships, eliminating her need to get attention from strangers. But Cindy's teacher, school counselor, and principal also must consider Marla's situation and desire to spend time with her daughter.

First, Cindy's teacher Nikki needs to understand how best to communicate with Marla in order to place Cindy in a proper after school program. So many of our parents feel that school administrators are judging them and do not understand that as single moms they are exhausted from the daily struggles and find it almost impossible to fill out paperwork, attend school events, or even take the time to talk to the teacher. Many parents have confessed that they have school phobia due to their own bad experiences at school. One mother told us that her heart would sink whenever the school called. Teachers and schools can make it easier for parents to attend support groups by providing child care, dinner, and transportation, as well as the opportunity to share concerns and socialize hassle free.

Second, Cindy's school counselor Shellie needs to identify a program that is both affordable and accessible. While she seems very knowledgeable about her community resources, she may not know that most programs offer scholarships. Ninety percent of youth in center-based programs at Girls Inc. in New Hampshire receive scholarships. Transportation is more challenging. Most after school programs provide busing from school to their center, but getting a ride home can be difficult. Parent carpools, public transportation, and Center vans are some solutions. Locating programs in a Housing Authority Development can make walking an easy option. Cindy's school principal, who seems very committed to his students, may want to start an after school program in his building.

Third, community partnerships between agencies can remove obstacles to participation in after school programs. In Girls Inc., teen mentors from Big Brothers Big Sisters keep girls enthusiastic about coming to the after school program, the Girl Scouts hold meetings in our building and in return waive dues and provide uniforms for our girls, and transportation is sometimes shared with other providers, such as the Army National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.

Finally, Marla could enjoy quality time with Cindy if she discovers her new job allows more time. In many after school programs, parents are welcome to attend. Many programs designed for girls may interest parents as well. For example, corporations have joined our efforts to provide programs that teach girls woodworking, automobile maintenance, and money management skills to name a few. Parent volunteers sharing their talents also make great instructors.

Communicating sensitively with Marla, identifying accessible and affordable after school programming, and providing the opportunity for Marla to participate in after school activities with Cindy, would meet Marla's desire for time with her daughter, and provide Cindy with a beneficial after school experience.

 


After School for Cindy Commentary by Mary Larner

 

Mary Larner is an applied researcher and policy analyst concerned with children's issues. As an editor of the Packard Foundation's journal, The Future of Children, she crafted a 1999 issue called When School Is Out (the full text is available at www.futureofchildren.org). She is currently living and working in Sweden.

Cindy is a lucky girl, though things are not easy for her. She is full of life and energy, she grasps the positive elements in her experience, she has a loving relationship with her mother, and she goes to a school with an engaged and supportive staff. Even so, Cindy is not doing well in school, and she spends much of her free time unsupervised, bored, or both. Her problems are of a sort that good after school activities naturally address, but her mother is unlikely to send her to such a program, despite suggestions from the school. Why not?

This case study is not really about Cindy but about the adults who surround her. Cindy's mother Marla is single and struggling to stay off welfare, so she juggles jobs, schedules, and paid help to keep an eye on Cindy after school lets out. The teacher Nikki is attuned to Cindy's problems and thinks a formal after school program could help. Though she has a good relationship with Marla, her understanding of the family is limited. The school principal and guidance counselor see the value of linking students to community-based after school activities, although the school does not operate or house a program of its own. Finally, while after school resources exist in the community, they are uncoordinated, and public transportation is minimal.

All the adults described here are thinking of Cindy's needs and interests when they wonder about after school activities for her. But after school time is a sort of “no man's land” in which solutions are scarce and frustration is common. Cindy's mother and the staff at the school look at after school alternatives for Cindy from sharply differing perspectives. They have different goals, they see different options, and they are aware of different constraints. Such differences can only be overcome in the context of a broad problem-solving discussion of interests, options, constraints, and responsibilities. What issues might then come up?

1. Time together – The case tells us that Marla's top priority after school hours is her desire to spend time with Cindy herself. As a single mother with no working car and struggling to manage work, household chores, and childrearing, Marla has little time to enjoy being with Cindy. It is most fun to be together outside the house, not cooped up indoors, although Marla does not organize excursions herself. In any case, an after school arrangement that kept Cindy away for even longer each day would frustrate Marla's interest in having time together.

The school staff, however, do not place a high value on the time Cindy spends with her mother, and are instead concerned that Marla does not know how to provide appropriate experiences to foster Cindy's development. Attitudes like these do not foster a good working relationship.

2. Safety and supervision – Like any concerned parent, Marla is trying to find an after school arrangement that will keep Cindy secure. Several options she has considered or tried (unbeknownst to the school) have not met her safety criteria, including a family child care home, and the idea that Cindy would walk home alone.

Cindy's teacher Nikki, however, worries about other safety issues when she sees Cindy playing around parked cars or hears of the videos she watches. Clearly, both Marla and Nikki are right—both sets of risks deserve attention when the pros and cons of different after school options are weighed.

3. Structure and enrichment – The educators in Cindy's life think of after school activities as a chance for children to master the social and academic skills that will help them succeed during the regular school day. Cindy's teacher Nikki would like to see her attend a formal program emphasizing social skills and self-esteem. She does not see much developmental value for Cindy in unstructured time spent with her mother.

The school's focus on educational enrichment during out-of-school time is natural, but narrow. Equally natural is a parent's focus on protecting time for the parent–child relationship. Their perspectives need not conflict, but could be balanced if Cindy attended structured activities just a few days a week.

4. Cost and logistics – When parents arrange after school care, the mundane details of cost and transportation often play a determining role, especially in low-income or single-parent families. Marla has tight finances, no working car, and no partner with whom to share responsibility, so cost and transportation top the list of criteria for a workable after school arrangement. She knows how little she can afford to pay, how rigid her work hours are, and how inefficient the community bus system is. Therefore, she invests her own energy on finding a job that will let her be home with Cindy after school.

By contrast, the school staff pay little heed to the pragmatic details of after school program cost and location. Their listings of community programs do not highlight cost, location, and transportation, so Marla does not view these as viable options. Experience has shown that while many community after school programs are underutilized, those that are free or low-cost tend to have long waiting lists.

5. Responsibility – Who should arrange after school activities for Cindy and her classmates? This task has long been the purview of parents, who have often responded like Marla by finding a relative or family child care provider to look after their children. Until recently, schools also paid little attention to this issue, beyond perhaps renting space to a program, or passing out information about community offerings. Now, awareness of after school is growing among school leaders, but resources have not grown apace. Frustration escalates, as does finger-pointing; parents, schools, and community organizations look to each other to solve the problem.

The truth is that all have a role to play in finding (or creating) constructive, workable after school experiences for today's children. To succeed at that important task, however, parents, school staff, and community leaders must think and reach beyond their own interests to communicate with one another. Only then will the after school opportunities they create truly meet the needs of children, parents, educators, and the community at large.

 


After School for Cindy Commentary by Melody Brazo

 

Melody Brazo is a former family liaison for student achievement for Cambridge Public Schools in Massachusetts and is currently an educational consultant.

This case illustrates the pitfalls involved in seeing other people in terms of their deficits, rather than their strengths. Because she does not have the money to repair or insure her car, Marla does not have a reliable way to get around the city. It is difficult for her to get to Cindy's school, difficult to pick up Cindy from after school, difficult to take Cindy to interesting places in the summer. She struggles to hold down a low-paying job while constantly making and remaking childcare arrangements. She is raising a child alone, far away from her family safety net. Through all of this, however, she is giving her daughter an up-close view of the lengths to which a parent will go to provide for a child. This is an enormous strength which goes unnoticed by the school personnel.

Nikki assumes that Marla lacks the parenting skills and motivation to follow through on her good intentions because she is single and poor. But while being poor may complicate the job of parenting, it does not mean that Marla has no ideas of what her daughter needs outside of school to support her learning in the classroom. Nikki's assessment of Cindy is framed negatively, as well: Cindy needs to improve her social skills, to learn to be less impulsive, to make appropriate overtures to peers, to feel better about herself, and to have more enriching after school experiences.

Shellie and Ed also view Cindy and Marla through the deficit lens. Shellie has had numerous conversations with school personnel about Cindy, but none with Marla. She relies on Cindy, a second grader, to relay all her communications home to Marla, thereby placing the burden of making contact on Marla. She assumes that Marla lacks parenting skills, and fails to credit Marla for her role in helping Cindy maintain the social gains she made during summer camp. Ed's belief that the most meaningful out-of-school-time for children is time spent engaged with parents, is important and should be reflected in Nikki's and Shellie's attempts to connect Cindy and her mom with out-of-school resources.

Many low-income families face challenges similar to these when their children are in school. Schools seem set up to accommodate middle class families who are not struggling for day-to-day survival, and whose members understand how to navigate in the educational system. It is easy for those of us who work in schools to forget that our own good intentions are not always enough. In my work, connecting under-performing students with out-of-school-time achievement-related resources, I have found that I need to monitor my own stereotypes and assumptions so that I can move beyond them to create true partnerships with the families I wish to serve. Parents like Marla, who did not have good experiences in school as young people, are often uncomfortable in schools as adults. They may not feel empowered to advocate for their children, especially if no one advocated for them as children. They may also feel (as a parent said to me, recently) that “It's a parent's job to get the kid to school, and it's a teacher's job to educate the kid while she's there.” In classrooms with families from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, teachers may have to navigate among parents who believe that they know how to teach far better than the teacher, and parents who defer to the teacher in all aspects of classroom management and content.

Shellie and Nikki can gain important information about how to serve this family by asking Marla what she needs. If her new job works out, Marla's biggest need may be money for reliable transportation and/or an apartment nearer to school. Certainly, for the past few years, she has needed reliable after school care near her home. Some school districts have links to resources which can provide this kind of assistance. In addition, Marla needs to be brought into the conversation about Cindy's schooling as a partner. This will require that Shellie and Nikki work to build a relationship of mutual trust with Marla. I have found that parents who are reluctant or unable to come in to school are sometimes more willing to meet on neutral ground (a playground after school or a coffee shop in their neighborhood). Shellie and Nikki will need to honor Marla's efforts and her good intentions. They will also need to examine their own stereotypes and lack of familiarity with the issues facing low-income families.

Finally, Marla and Cindy need opportunities to celebrate the positive aspects of their family within the context of school. Once this family's strengths are visible and appreciated, the barriers to Cindy's success in school and her needs for out-of-school-time resources will be easier to address.

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