In November 2016, with increased support from Chatham County Schools, Communities In Schools Chatham County (CISCC) expanded its services to Virginia Cross Elementary (VCE) in Siler City to reach the younger siblings of Chatham Middle School (CMS) students and their classmates. Jazmin Mendoza Sosa is the CISCC Student Support Specialist at VCE, and she is great at putting out fires. In fact, she’s even better at preventing fires from starting in the first place. Mendoza Sosa serves as a liaison within the school and also between the school and the community. Whether it’s making sure the school staff is aware of CISCC volunteers coming into the school, helping teachers and non-native English speaking parents communicate, directly helping students needing extra attention, or bridging the school and the community, Mendoza Sosa works with passion and skill. She is especially invested, because, as she tells her students and families, “I was one of you. I grew up in Siler City. My parents are hard workers too. You can work hard and be like me!”
Mendoza Sosa works with 54 students (10% of the school’s population) on emotional, social, and behavioral learning. These students have been identified as needing extra supports to what VCE already has in place. These children have different needs with different intensities, and Mendoza is exceptionally skilled at understanding these needs, anticipating supports, and finding help. Sometimes Mendoza Sosa works with small groups of children, and sometimes she goes into the classroom to work with students one on one. Whether in the classroom, a small-group setting or walking in the hallways, Mendoza Sosa models the behaviors and skills she is trying to teach. She constantly assesses each situation, “thinks on her feet,” and appropriately responds to the individuals’ and groups’ needs.
Mendoza Sosa has 30 minutes each week to work with a small group of 1st graders and 30 minutes each week to work with a small group of 3rd graders—both during the students’ lunch period. She maximizes every minute she has with them to teach pro-social skills (e.g., sharing, helping, cooperating, and empathy). Mendoza Sosa teaches responsibility and how to share by assigning each student rotating jobs such as line leader, door holder, and bathroom monitor. Mendoza Sosa also demonstrates different ways to handle situations, often on the spur of the moment, according to what students are dealing with right then. For example, she concluded a discussion with the 1st graders on strategies to use when they were disappointed by having to divide two cookies four ways. Mendoza Sosa kindly, but firmly, explained, “We don’t always get what we want. It’s ok to be disappointed. But it’s not ok to call people bad names or hit someone.” The children ended up being ok with sharing their cookie. After all, what’s better—half of a cookie or no cookie at all?
In addition to working with children in small groups and one on one, Mendoza Sosa is instrumental in communicating information between the VCE teachers and parents—especially the parents who do not speak English. She might text or call to stress the importance of children taking their ADHD medication the weekend before EOG tests. Or she might remind parents to sign permission slips for students attending summer Reading Camp. Both the teachers and parents appreciate Mendoza Sosa’s vitality in linking the school, homes, and the community. A first-year teacher at VCE with students on Mendoza Sosa’s caseload recently said, “I honestly don’t know how I would’ve made it through the year without her. She was a valuable asset to me and the students who had behavioral struggles. She is truly an amazing person to work with. She always helps to give other possible options to handling difficult situations and students. She helped with parent communication and was great at getting my concerns addressed to the parents. Ms. Jazmin is undeniably the greatest asset I had at VCE the year.”
Mendoza Sosa’s work doesn’t stop when the school year ends, though. She and the media specialist at VCE, Lindsay Shore-Wright, are taking an existing resource to higher levels this summer by expanding the Bookmobile. Beginning on June 13th and running through August 22nd, each Wednesday VCE will bring a library on wheels to 10 neighborhoods in Siler City. This summer, though, extra activities are planned at two of the stops—activities that reinforce literacy skills and encourage reading for fun. The goal is to double the numbers of Bookmobile participants from last year. Snacks, prizes, bookmarks, pencils, and erasers will be given out and craft and reading comprehension activities will be done. There will even be a volunteer reading aloud at these two sites each week.
Not all parents feel comfortable going into their children’s schools, or even onto the Bookmobile. Last year it took all summer for one parent to feel comfortable getting on the Bookmobile to help pick out a book for her child. Mendoza Sosa wants the whole experience to be friendlier and include more than checking out books. The weekly Bookmobile visits will give Mendoza Sosa the opportunity to engage families and find out from parents what kinds of things they need to support reading with children and their children’s learning in general. Krista Millard, formerly with Chatham Reads— whose mission is to foster community partnerships that are dedicated to ensuring that literacy and reading resources are accessible to all Chatham County residents—said that Jazmin is an integral part of the Bookmobile’s success. “She provides a safe place for families to come and access books over the summer. She interprets and is a familiar face to the students.” Mendoza Sosa is passionate about trying new things to benefit students. She tells the families, “I care about your family. We need to work together to help your child succeed.”
Mendoza Sosa lives her passion and will track data from this summer’s Bookmobile to see if the extra efforts are making positive impacts. “Our kids are hungry for knowledge,” Mendoza Sosa says. “We just need to feed them the right way.” There is no indication that Mendoza Sosa will stop until the right way is found.
For more information on the work done at Virginia Cross Elementary School or with the Bookmobile, please contact Jazmin Mendoza Sosa, Student Support Specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (919) 663-0116 ext. 410