‘It takes a village’: US Education Secretary visits School District of Lancaster community school

March 22, 2024 Lancaster Online By Ashley Stalnecker

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona continued his two-day visit to Lancaster County Wednesday afternoon with a tour of George Washington Elementary School, one of the School District of Lancaster’s full service community schools.

At the Lancaster city school, Cardona got a first-hand look at how a community school director and enhanced mental health programming can make students and parents of all backgrounds feel welcome and included in the School District of Lancaster community.

“You represent that expression, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,” Cardona said to a group of leaders in the school’s parent teacher organization, the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 and the African American Advisory Committee. “It takes every generation. What I see happening right here is that there are community partners, that we have people that have different messages coming in working under one goal, one mission.”

At Washington Elementary, parents sometimes come to school with their kids to learn English or work toward a General Educational Development diploma. If a student spills juice on their T-shirt, they can come to the school’s family resource room, where an adult will toss the shirt in a washer. A refrigerator and multiple cabinets hold snacks and food for students who might otherwise go without.

Principal Patrick Muench said the southeast part of Lancaster city, where Washington is located, has the highest rate of students in poverty, students receiving special education and students that are learning English as a second language.

Community schools, he said, are a “lever for equitable practices.”

The community school director, Phoebe Radcliffe, has been employed by the Boys and Girls Club of Lancaster to serve Washington Elementary since 2020.

“Speaking to the community, really being here and having community leaders, mentoring students and talking with staff – that’s what a community school is,” Radcliffe told LNP | LancasterOnline after Cardona’s tour. “Our doors should be open. This should be a hub.”

Having a community school director partnering with more than 40 organizations in the city takes an added workload away from teachers and increases overall job satisfaction for Washington Elementary staff, Muench said.

“Teachers in schools that are not community schools are doing everything that they can in addition to their teaching load – eventually you burn out,” Muench said after Cardona’s tour.

But teachers at Washington Elementary do tie social emotional learning into their pedagogy.

For example, most, if not all, use the RULER mood meter social emotional learning approach – a method for checking in with students to recognize and label the emotions they’re feeling as they enter a classroom and begin their schoolday.

Students can head to the school’s learning lab after recess to regulate their mood after recess and before returning to class. That room contains a mini billiards set and posters that encourage positive skill-building.

In the learning lab and a few classrooms he toured, Cardona gave students chocolate coins bearing the U.S. Department of Education logo.

To close out his time in Lancaster County, Cardona addressed a crowd of students gathered for an assembly emphasizing the connection between mental health and music. Joining him on the stage was a guitarist who belongs to the national nonprofit Sounds of Saving, which provides education and access to mental health treatment for youth and marginalized communities.

To drive home the importance of music to mental health, Cardona referenced a favorite song of his, ‘Flor Marchita.’ Flor marchita is a Spanish phrase meaning wilted flower.

“Sometimes I compare education to a flor marchita and we’re all master gardeners bringing it back to life,” Cardona said.

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