Erwin Middle: A Community School in Action

Meet Linnea Burgevin, United Way Resource Coordinator entering her third school year at Erwin Middle this fall, and our fourth year as an organization working in partnership with the school. I sat down with Linnea to hear an update on her work in helping to transform the Erwin Middle Warriors into a community school alongside teachers and administration, local organizations, parents, students, and volunteers.
“My first year was all about building relationships,” she shares. “We held 17 events - everything from student athlete banquets to Micronesian family night to a ‘Parent Voice Night’ where parents could come in and talk to me and the Principal about their feelings and needs. We went out into the community to Deaverview, Emma and Leicester and really tried to get visible outside of the school, drawing the community in to participate in things like ‘Multicultural Night’ and other events to help draw people into the school as a welcoming place.”
Her hard work paid off and after spending time interviewing and working with hundreds of student, parents, teachers and community members to get a feel for the needs, desires and missing pieces, she was honored as ‘Staff Member of the Year’ by her peers at Erwin Middle. This was a heartwarming honor as a new staff member employed by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, yet showing up every day in the middle school to work with students, teachers, administrators and families.

Growing a Community School

In the fall 2017 and spring of 2018, the focus is really to build on the foundation laid the previous year, expanding programs and growing the list of community partners working in tandem with the school. This is a critical part of creating a Community School, which is based on Four Pillars as shared by the Coalition for Community Schools, which includes: Collaborative Leadership and Practice, Expanded Learning Time and Opportunities, Active Family and Community Engagement, and Integrated Student Supports.

One strategy that Linnea implemented in her second year that really touched on several aspects of this framework was to create an Erwin Mentor Network, comprised of 8 different mentoring groups that the school connects students with on a weekly basis both in-school and outside-of school. The partner organizations that facilitate these weekly mentorship opportunities for students at Erwin Middle are:  
  • Jayme Davis of Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Jordan Foltz of Journeymen
  • Individual volunteer tutors, such as long-time student mentors and advocates, Dr. Larry McCallum and Mr. Richard Bowman
  • Cat Turbyfill of ACCESS Family Services
  • Norma Brown, Erwin Family Liaison , Buncombe County Schools
Another strategy she implemented to better allow current students to support new students to the school was creating a Welcome Warriors student ambassador team, which she counts as a success from the past year. “Basically, we pair a newcomer student with really friendly, outgoing, loving students from the Welcome Warriors. This helps acclimate those new students to the school, get to know someone, and practice their English if they’re not an English speaking student. The Welcome Warriors also meet on a weekly basis to focus on how they can make the school more inviting and accessible for their peers and community.

Collaboration + Problem Solving Alongside Students, Parents, Teachers and Community Partners...

In fact, successful implementation of the Erwin Mentor Network and Welcome Warriors, amongst other initiatives, contributed to Erwin Middle being recognized with the Compass Award by the Buncombe County Graduation Initiative in June, 2018. “Linnea is willing to collaborate and problem solve with all stakeholders in order to help our students feel welcomed, included and be successful,” a school staff member recently shared with our team.

In the spring of 2018, Erwin Middle celebrated that 589 students and parents had been in attendance to to-date for weekly engagement Homework Diner events that we facilitate alongside school parents, administrators, and community partners. In fact, a group of parents at the school decided to take on facilitating them together, forming a Parent Team that actively checks students and families in and helps ensure everything runs smoothly while their students enjoy dinner with teachers, fellow students and mentors.“
We held a rising seventh grade night this year,” shares Linnea, “and combined it with the Homework Diner finale at the end of the year. So we had this big party happening in the front of the school as these new students are arriving and looking at all of this activity thinking “Whoa, this looks awesome. I can’t wait to go to this school.” This is a really important part of how she is focusing on school transitions alongside teachers and school administrators, ensuring incoming 7th graders are supported and feel comfortable in that transition. 
Recently, Linnea formed a Transit Team with representation from parents, teachers, and community partners. They are working on ways to advocate with the Buncombe County Schools Transportation Department and local public transportation officials for additional student and family transportation options in the Erwin district. With 70% of Erwin Middle School students relying on the school bus as their form of transportation, 72% of students surveyed at the school said additional transit would help make the school a better place. “Staff also said that having a late bus [for after-school activities] would markedly make our school a better place and make students happier,” Linnea shares. “It’s exciting because I finally have these really strong relationships and data that can take these things to higher-level conversations and advocacy with the city, county and vital community partners.”

Want to get involved in co-creating a community school at Erwin Middle?