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DC School Reform Now is educating, organizing and advocating to build support for public education strategies that prepare kids to become college and career ready.

Partner Interview: Juanita White, AppleTree Early Learning PCS

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What is your educational background? What parts were essential for you?

 I have a bachelor’s degree in Broadcast/Communications and a master’s degree in Public Administration. The most essential part of my learning came when I realized how I accessed learning.  I never enjoyed sitting in a classroom. I always wanted to be in the lab or library or on a field trip where tactile learning and interaction were the main characters in my learning experience.

How have your own experiences drawn you to this work? 

I had involved parents. I was one of the first Black kids to be bussed to a predominantly white school in an all-white neighborhood in Brooklyn NY. I remember not wanting to go, but hearing my dad repeat to me that the world was a whole lot bigger than my backyard and to not worry, I would be great and make new friends and have different experiences because of this change. He was right.  He and my mom were there every morning sending my sister and I off and waiting for us to return at the end of the day. They were there all the time, at every school event, every PTO meeting and everything in between. Though there were less technological distractions then, there were still distractions. But my parents engaged us, made time for us and supported our desires to be apart of not only what we learned but how we learned.

Juanita White

What is Appletree’s history with DCSRN?

I came to AppleTree in the summer of 2013 and one of my roles was to support PreK families find elementary schools with kindergarten programs that align to what we do in preschool. Having school choice but not knowing what or how to choose is not very helpful to families who are often ill-equipped to deal with this overwhelming process. In 2014, with the advent of the DC common lottery system, I met leaders at DCSRN and we discussed how they had the bandwidth to support the K-transition program AppleTree needed. Many of our families stay with us because we have the capacity and the resources through DCSRN to help them with this very important transition-from PK to Kindergarten.

Why is a partnership beneficial?

AppleTree believes in strong collaboration through partnerships, partnerships that allow us to engage with experts in areas where we are not, to support what we do. There are a lot of schools and choice, schools that participate in the DC Common lottery and schools that don’t. This is a lot of information for one person to try to maintain. DCSRN is strong where I am weak. They have a strong parent-based network with the experience to help many of our first-time families with the daunting task of finding a school that is the best fit for their child’s and family’s needs.

What are the priorities for your families when transitioning?

AppleTree’s curriculum, ECR (Every Child Ready), is researched-based with structured components of flexible small groups to cultivate individual learning styles. Students have the freedom to explore and to engage in total classroom interaction, all while having fun and developing skills that will promote their education success. Most of our families are looking for kindergarten programs that align with those components. Our students typically test 20% higher in literacy, language and math over students who do not attend AppleTree, so having a kindergarten program that continues to challenge them with high quality engaged learning is very important. Additionally, parents also look for schools in proximity to work, home and to other caregivers for their children. 

What question do families ask the most about the application process? 

The MSDC application process can be overwhelming to first time applicants. Most of our families find the online application user-friendly, especially with the help that MSDC support team offers.  The question is usually around how the lottery matches them with their school choices. To breakdown the answer in lay terms can be a little more challenging. However, with DCSRN it is very simple. DCSRN takes ownership of the process. They reach out to our families and set schedules to meet with them, assign a parent advocate and a timeline to help them with the MSDC process as well as school tours, etc.

What’s your advice to families doing this for the first time?

Take your time so you can do research on the schools that you are interested. Ask questions of their child’s school leaders. Make sure the questions are specific about their development and learning styles, what interests them, what challenges them and what subjects they ignore. Talk to your children about the same thing: what they like about school, what they don’t like about it. Be observant and watch how your child performs in each area: where they are excelling and where they may need more support. Talk to parents of the schools that they may be considering. Read their website, investigate their admin staff. Get and be involved. We as parents, are the first teachers and we set the initial impression on what we think school should be to and for our children. 

What is your favorite part of this entire process?  

When my parents send me emails letting me know that the school they chose is perfect for their scholars and they too have access to learn and get involved. I also like when they call and say, the choice they made is not a good one. That let’s me know they are not settling and that they are willing to get what they and their children need for the educational success that they all deserve and to which they have a right.

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