Care Corps is Filling in the Gaps for Rocketship California Families
by Maricela Guerrero
At the beginning of this year, we focused on elevating our community schools model in Rocketship California schools with the addition of a Care Corps Coordinator at each school site. We set out to build upon the work of Care Corps from the year prior, which aimed to support families with the impacts of the pandemic. This year, we sought to continue that support while moving toward a model of our schools as hubs of community resources – places where our families can come and be connected to the various resources, agencies, and organizations in the broader ecosystem of services and supports so that they have the things they need to thrive and flourish.
Our Care Corps coordinators are full-time staff members at each school dedicated to helping our families meet their basic needs so that their children can thrive in school. Just a few days after we went virtual in March 2020, it became clear how much our families needed support connecting to food, healthcare, housing, and other resources. Rocketship California serves 6,500 students – 76% of whom are low-income, 73% are Hispanic/Latino, and 59% are English Language Learners. The Rocketship Public Schools Care Corps program is not just a referral service – many support systems our families try to access are cumbersome and complicated. Language barriers, red tape, and internet access are just a few of the challenges that often prevent families from accessing vital support services. Our Care Corps coordinators truly partner with our families to navigate support systems and get the resources they need. From providing calm words of support to a family in crisis to maintaining relationships with local social services agencies who know our families by name to helping monolingual Spanish-speaking families fill out paperwork, our coordinators are with our families every step of the way.
Our Care Corps program is part of the latest evolution of our larger community schools model. “Community schools” – or schools that support the whole child and their families both inside and outside of the classroom – are an old idea gaining a lot of traction as we try to rebuild our education system coming back from COVID-19 closures. These public schools integrate student supports into the traditional school day, have a dedicated social-emotional learning block each day, extend learning time, engage with families, and collaborate between parents and educators to accelerate learning and growth.
This year, our Care Corps Coordinators have been hard at work this year building our program and supporting our communities, particularly when it comes to building bridges between our schools and local organizations. Take Mimi Santiago, for example, the CCC at RLS, who saw a need for food amongst all Rocketship families early in the fall and reached out to Second Harvest to initiate a partnership. Mimi worked hard to engage various internal and external stakeholders – Second Harvest, the Rocketship contracts team, and the San Jose Police Activities League (a third-party location hosting the distribution) – to help our families experiencing food insecurity. Through her hard work building relationships, communicating between multiple stakeholders, and planning, the Care Corps Team, in partnership with NeST staff, we’re able to execute her vision and distribute 100 boxes of dry goods, produce, eggs, milk, and chicken to our Rocketship families in the South Bay. The event was also open to anyone else in our community who is experiencing food insecurity, demonstrating how our Care Corps Team is establishing our schools as pillars of community support. We will continue this distribution twice monthly for all Rocketship families as well as the broader community.
Our Care Corps Team is full of these stories. Last month, Susanna Guardado (Care Corps Coordinator at Rocketship Brilliant Minds) created a partnership with City Team to coordinate a hygiene drive for those in need. Partnering with Evelyn Rojas (Care Corps Coordinator at Rocketship Spark) and Tania Escalona, (Care Corps Coordinator at Rocketship Rising Stars) families donated 3,000 hygiene items to City Team, which will now be available to families across San Jose. Our Rocketship families demonstrated their commitment to uplifting the wider community and supporting those in need. Susanna has more projects in the works with City Team now that the partnership has been established, such as an upcoming clothing drive for families at Rocketship Brilliant Minds.
Our Care Corps Team has been embodying the power of WE throughout this year by forming these partnerships – whether with food banks, mobile vaccination clinics, local health departments, anti-bullying organizations, housing agencies, counseling centers – to support and help our Rocketship families thrive. In doing so, we are leading the way in community development, which will undoubtedly benefit our students and set them up for success to help change our world in the future.
And relationships are at the heart of community schools. Cultivating a strong connection with families has been a top priority at Rocketship Public Schools since we opened our first school 15 years ago when I was a founding teacher at that first campus. I still remember doing home visits with every family in my class at the start of the school year. To this day, every fall, all Rocketship teachers visit the homes of every student they serve. Annual home visits are an essential part of our community school model. And this pandemic has underscored the importance of our relationship-centered school model and highlighted critical ways we can grow stronger. Our Care Corps coordinators work with our mental health providers on each campus to run workshops for parents on life skills, give ideas of how to support their students’ social-emotional learning, and more.
Schools are uniquely positioned to be hubs for community wellness and transformation, unlike any other institution. And great schools are not just about great teachers, there are many vital roles schools must support to ensure they are truly able to meet the needs of the whole child. Great schools have people like our Care Corps coordinators working every day to help families get what they need so that they and their children can thrive, learn, and grow.
Maricela Guerrero is the executive director of Rocketship Public Schools California where she leads the network’s 13 public elementary schools. Guerrero launched her career in elementary education over 20 years ago and was a founding teacher at the very first Rocketship school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, where she later became principal.
Published on March 21, 2022