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Elementary School Fosters Growth in Families


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It’s 3:30 p.m. and the regular school day is ending at Campbell Elementary school. Between 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Emily Koopman has no set responsibilities. However, right as 3:30 p.m. hits, she gets into action. 

Koopman is Campbell’s School Community Coordinator, which means she engages with families, running before and after school programming for students and parents alike. Campbell Elementary is a community learning center (CLC) and there are 29 public schools in Lincoln, Nebraska that operate in a similar fashion.

CLC’s main mission, Koopman noted, is to create environments for successful youth, thriving families and strong neighborhoods. At Campbell, there are free after-school clubs for students and evening adult education classes. There are also family literacy classes that meet during the school day for english language learning parents. 

One of the programs Koopman finds extremely paramount is an adult education goal-setting class. The class is 2 ½ hours long with dinner and childcare provided. According to Koopman, it gives parents a quiet place to plan their future and take control of their lives. 

“It’s just a time for those parents to really think about what their goals are, where they’re at and what resources they have. The whole point is to not just get by, but get ahead. Those classes are so awesome,” Koopman said.

Koopman believes by giving Campbell parents the ability to get things done in a productive space, parents will be more engaging with their kids at home. 

Jenna Finch, University of Nebraska-Lincoln psychology professor, can attest to this belief.

“Research shows that the earliest years are the strongest predictors of children’s outcomes,” Finch said. “The earlier that you can intervene and support kids the better that they’re going to do.” 

Finch is in the process of beginning her own research study, focusing on a children’s transition from second grade to third grade. She will have second graders and their parents do a variety of tasks to measure their motivation, persistence and their self-regulation skills. She will then measure outcomes when the parents and children are made to work together. 

“The idea is that kids who go into third grade with these skills that really support learning and engagement in the classroom are going to do better during this transition,” Finch said.

At Campbell Elementary, there are also transformations occurring. Koopman describes how much change she sees in students that go from Kindergarten to First grade, and how the adults grow a lot in the family literacy class. 

She believes the environment provides an easy transition for students and parents from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. One of her focuses in her position is to employ diverse staff that best represent the students.

“I think that that it is a big thing to be able to look at the adults and the leaders in your life and say ‘Oh that person looks like me’ or ‘That person speaks my language’ so that’s my job as a leader,” Koopman said. 

Although Koopman sees a lot of good in Campbell Elementary, she finds herself “scheming and dreaming” of ways the community can be strengthened.

“When I close my eyes and I think about the best community learning center of all time, I think to myself that it would be a place where everyone really feels like they have a role and no one feels overburdened,” she said. “I want to see all the students get really excited about something and for each of them to find their skill and self-identify with it.”