Hello Everyone! My name is Alejandra Gómez and I am a first year VISTA serving with Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI) in the community of Southwest Detroit. I have personally been a part of this community for over 15 years. It is interesting to come back to the community that helped me grow and be of service in a different role, as a VISTA. After graduating from the University of Michigan- Dearborn this past May, I became anxious and needed to find my purpose in life. I am very excited to fulfill my purpose in my current role as the Education Initiative Coordinator and being where I actually love, which is in my community.
My VAD is composed of two significant areas of educational opportunities for my community of Southwest Detroit and they focus around increasing college access and decreasing chronic absenteeism. UNI has over fifty partners which collaborate in these efforts to bring more opportunities for our youth. For instance, being the coordinator of Southwest Detroit College Access Network I am responsible for meeting with our partners one-on-one including, but not limited, to non-profit organizations, local universities, adult education organizations, and many more sectors. One of the main focus areas for the network is to think outside of High School students, and include the entire community from cradle to career. We invited early childhood experts as well as adult education providers, because if we want to increase college going culture it is important to start young and also include non-traditional students.
Furthermore, chronic absenteeism is an issue for children in Detroit. Two out of three Detroit students are chronically absent, who miss as little as two days of school a month which equals a total of 18 days a year. Missing so many days of school can put the student at an academic disadvantage and ultimately lead to the student dropping out of school in years to come. For this reason UNI, Congress of Communities, and the Brightmoor Alliance have partnered to address this issue since 2013 and have worked to end chronic absence in Southwest Detroit. Those organizations recruited Attendance Works in 2014, a state and national initiative, to help implement their strategies from other cities to find solutions for Detroit schools. We identified three pilot schools from Southwest Detroit and we are working closely with them to achieve our goal of reducing chronic absence by 10 percent by the end of the school year 2018. The three schools are Bennett Elementary School, Earhart Elementary/Middle School, and Western International High School and I continue to meet with the attendance teams in each respective school to go over data, see how they are moving forward and if there is any extra support they might need from me. We are also launching a citywide messaging campaign to create a uniform message around chronic absence and increase awareness of the struggles of chronically absent students. I have also met with many parents in the community to engage them in the process and train them so they are empowered to train other parents. It is vital for us to include parents in the process of decreasing chronic absenteeism and identify obstacles that might keep a child home from school.
My time as a VISTA has kept me engaged with my community and filled with numerous rewarding, challenging, and exciting moments that help build on my purpose in life. As of now it is too soon to see the impact I have created in the community, but I am sure that looking back in years to come I will be very satisfied with the progress of the work of not only me, but of all VISTAs working to make this world a more equitable space filled with greater opportunities. My purpose is not to do things for myself but to serve others that need support to make their passions a reality.
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!