Linkage session brings Howard-Suamico community together
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Leaders from around Howard-Suamico met with school board members and district staff in an effort to learn from each other on Monday, Oct. 8.
The linkage session was comprised of four groups, each made up of leaders from the clergy, community organizations, social workers, district staff and board members.
“Share your heart, share those hurdles that are in front of you to help these families and students to move forward and change their lives,” Mark Ashley, school board vice president, told the groups.
Discussion in the groups ranged from challenges each facet of the community faces, district hurdles to overcome, opportunities for partnership and communication assessment.
“It seems like (students) might be struggling to kind of connect with their places, where they’re going and how to fit into the community and make those connections,” said Ashley Bethke, community program engagement officer with the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, in one of the groups. “A lot of times we know all these resources are out there for them, but they don’t even know to ask if a resource exists.”
Another hurdle discussed in the same group was the lack of public transportation, housing and homeless shelters in the Howard-Suamico area.
“A community issue that I can’t get over is that we have no community homeless shelters that are taking our families right now,” said Michelle Dahlke, a district social worker.
At the end of last school year, Dahlke said there were 74 homeless families in the district. Currently that number is 12, but she expects it to rise.
Freedom House is a family shelter in the area, but the waiting list is up to 81 families, she said.
The lack of low-income housing in the district is also a concern as there are options available in Green Bay, but then those students affected are moved out of the district and into a new group of social service programs.
“They have to find all those resources in their new location,” Bethke said. “They exist but having to navigate those is a challenge.”
Those students could open enroll back in the district, but without public transportation, that’s often not the case.
Bethke reported that the biggest obstacle Somali families face is getting a driver’s license, as not only do they have to purchase the vehicle, but they have to pass the test conducted in English.
Kourtney Feldhausen, English Language program and Giving Tree coordinator, said people don’t realize how diverse the district is.
She said the program works with students and families who speak Russian, Ukrainian, Somali, Hmong, Spanish and more as their primary language.
Nicole Smith, Howard-Suamico Education Foundation director, said it’s difficult to communicate programs to these families.
“One teacher said we have five languages being spoken in kindergarten in one of our elementary schools,” Smith said.
Still the perception remains the district is an affluent one and not in need of programs or services to help disadvantaged families.
“The outside view is Howard-Suamico doesn’t need help, or they’re good,” Bethke said. “They see Howard-Suamico up here, and what you miss is that there are many families that need additional support and students. I think that has done our district a disservice.”
From the clergy prospective, Kym Allex, youth minister at St. John the Baptist, said she sees parents try to make their child the next prodigy and when that fails, the students are at risk for drug use and other bad behaviors.
In her limited time with St. Johns, Allex said she sees stress from both sides.
“The amount of stress and anxiety that they as the students talk about, but the parents talk about the what ifs,” she said. “What if they fail? What if they don’t get on the sports team?”
Allex said her church has recently seen an influx of volunteers to help with the mentorship program, which helps on the church side.
On the school side, Smith mentioned how a grant last year helped start an e-sports club, so high school students who feel like they don’t fit in anywhere have another avenue to making friends and participating.
She also mentioned there is a Settlers of Catan club, so students at Bay Port can play the board game and meet new people.
But the information hasn’t gotten out to everyone who works with students.
“I work at Bay Port and I don’t know any of this,” Dahlke said. “There is a communication barrier in our district too that is very frustrating.”
Teresa Ford, board president, said the next step will a breakdown of the topics discussed and where the board and administration can go next.
“At our next meeting we will debrief on what we all heard at the different groups – and you noticed there were administrators in each of those groups, so the administration is also talking about it – and figure out how to collaborate with the district and the different entities like Big Brothers Big Sisters or The Giving Tree,” Ford said.
Ford said having administration sit in and participate with the board members is beneficial because one group makes the policies and the other enacts them.
“They operationalize the policies we put in place,” she said. “For both of us to hear the discussion is good because it’s not just making the policies, it’s having the people that are going to implement them hear the same conversations.”