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  • Jim Townsend

Community Closet at Westwood One of Multiple Programs to Help Students and Families

While attending the Portland Public School Board of Education meeting on January 8th, I caught a presentation by Westwood Elementary School Counselor, Michelle Robydek, MA, LPC. The presentation was on a number of programs at Westwood designed to help support kids and families.

As a longtime Portland resident, with three kids in the district, I have always been aware of the kindness of district staff, but these programs really impressed me. Robydek was generous enough to help me get a better understanding of wider scope of these programs at Westwood, and the story behind them.

Robydek said, “The official name of our program is a Professional Learning Community named Family/Community Involvement. Each building in the Portland School District has one of these PLC’s.” She added, “This program was formed in the 2016-2017 school year when our new Superintendent, Will Heath, was hired. We have PLC’s that are district wide as well as building specific.”

When asked for some background on his bringing PLC’s to the Portland Public Schools, Superintendent Will Heath said, “I had worked with PLCs in the past and saw an opportunity to use them in Portland as well. The whole goal of having PLCs is to provide an opportunity for teachers to work together and to develop successful solutions to a wide range of problems. We set up a system where each building has an ELA, Math, Social Studies, and Science PLC but also has a Technology, Teacher Growth, Family and Community Involvement, Data, and MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) team. We then use our professional development time, including our half days, to work within these groups. They learn more about their teams specific area, develop programs such as the Westwood closet, and select the resources that the district will purchase to educate our students. We have seen a substantial amount of positive change come from these committees. Who better to work on these topics than the teachers themselves. Each of our committees has made a difference and now we are developing some other smaller committees as well as bringing all of the building committees together for larger discussions about alignment Pre-Kindergarten through twelfth grade. I meet with each committee chair before their meetings to discuss the work and direction for their team. The conversations that we have are exciting and I look forward to the continued work of each team as it will ensure a bright future for PPS.”

One portion of the program at Westwood is a community closet. Robydek said, “We have always accepted donations at Westwood, however, this is the first year we have given the community closet a name, extra space and a purpose to help all students with snacks, personal hygiene items and clothing!”

The closet features a number of items that students may need over the course of the day.

Robydek says, “Anyone can make a donation by dropping off items to Westwood Elementary School’s main office.” As for items the closet could use now, Robydek said, “we are accepting hygiene products, non-perishable single wrapped snacks, hats, gloves, socks, underwear, hoodies, athletic pants, jeans for boys and girls all sizes 3rd - 5th grade. {10-12, 12-14, 14-16 are our averages sizes}.”

We have attached a flyer to this article with additional information on needed items.

The closet at Westwood also got a recent boost in the form of a local grant. Robydek explained, “The Family/Community PLC wrote a grant to the Portland Community Fund to help start up and stock up snacks for our community closet at Westwood. The idea behind this is there are students who come to school without snacks, sometimes they forget and sometimes it is not provided by the family. Teachers usually spend their own money to provide extra snacks in their rooms. Our PLC wanted to help support kids by having snacks available and teachers by helping out financially.”

The group also hopes to secure a washer and dryer for Westwood in the near future. “One of our PLC goals is to get a washing machine and dryer here at school. At times, kids need clothes washed due to a variety of reasons. It would be very helpful to have that access here at school,” Robydek said.

One other way the group is helping Westwood students is with Haircuts. Robydek explained, “The Family/Community PLC started out with a question, “What can we do here at school to help and support kids and families?” We came up with offering haircuts here at school. We ask stylists in the area to help and they joyfully volunteer their time to cut and style our kid’s hair. Six stylists have helped us out so far. We have had 4 days of haircuts, 2 last year and 2 this year so far, averaging about 10-12 students each day. We plan on offering 2-3 more this year. We choose to do haircuts because we noticed some kids were going quite a long time without a cut and this would help support the families in our community. We also offer haircuts and styling to kids who teachers would like to reward. We have had many students come in to get a braid done or hair styled because the teacher wants this student to feel “pampered” and get a little extra attention because they have been working so hard and have been doing a great job in school. We have loved this program here at Westwood and have seen the kids light up when they get a great haircut!

When they do have their hair cut and styled it increases self-esteem & confidence, which will increase participation in academic and peer interactions. Meeting students’ basic needs will help support families & students toward success in school and life. Which is why the Family/Community PLC at Westwood is focusing on meeting kids’ basic needs first, food, clothing, and haircuts.”

Westwood Principal Chris Kenroy said, “What the family and community PLC is doing at Westwood has helped numerous students, and I'm very thankful for the time and effort they have put in to make their vision a reality. I truly believe that the basic needs of students need to be met before the focus can be placed on academics. This community closet goes a long way towards making sure those needs are fulfilled so that students can concentrate on their academics and showing their Raider P.R.I.D.E.”

Superintendent Heath added, “I think we are extremely fortunate for the generous community and hardworking staff that made this happen. There are more kids in need in Portland than most people would think. Having a community closet at Westwood will allow us to help any and all of these students. Great work by all involved!”

When asked if there were any other programs at Westwood, or in PPS that she thought Beacon readers should know more about, Robydek said, “One other program we have going on district wide is PBIS. PBIS stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports. In essence, we are focusing on developing a multi-tiered approach to behavioral interventions. This model uses evidence-based practices. “PBIS improves social, emotional and academic outcomes for all students, including students with disabilities and students from underrepresented groups”. - PBIS World. We recognize students making positive behavior choices, we teach and reteach general expectations throughout the school year using a common language. Our guiding acronym is P.R.I.D.E. which focuses on being PREPARED, RESPECTFUL, IN CONTROL, DETERMINED, and ENGAGED. We break down what P.R.I.D.E. looks like in the hallways, in the cafeteria, outside playing, etc.... Our students at Westwood have met their goals and have been able to participate in school wide activities. We use data to make the best decision about how to make our schools well rounded educational facilities where students can grow, learn and thrive with support from highly supported and knowledgeable administrators, teachers and staff members.”

If you would like more information about any of these programs at Westwood, you may reach Michelle Robydek at or 517-647-2989.

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