“I really believe that it’s a calling to work in this field,” said MaryAnn Foster, who has been a Communities In Schools of Jacksonville site coordinator for the past eight years at the Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology.
“You have to be passionate about what you do, and you have to support students and their families as a whole,” said Foster. “You need to care not just about their academic life, but their home life, well-being and every other area. There are so many facets to these students and to their families.”
No one student that Foster serves is alike. Whether she is connecting a depressed student with counseling services or serving as a positive role model for a student who is otherwise excelling in school, the site coordinator says her goal is for all her students to not just make it, but thrive, both inside and outside of school.
“We, as site coordinators, are bridging the gap between students, parents and the community to help young people recognize their value, be successful and reach their potential,” she said.
When Foster first met André, she said he was an introverted and sad student who didn’t try to make friends, because he felt like no one would want to be his friend anyway. Having been abandoned as a baby and remembering a lonely childhood, André felt that he had little value and was defined by his past.
Foster said that after Communities In Schools connected the young man with Outward Bound, a leadership-based program, André found what had been missing in his life: a sense of community and belonging.
“Our goal is to have an authentic relationship with students. I think students know if you care or if it’s just a job. It’s really important that students know that we genuinely care for them and are here for them on any given day.”
Now André is an honor roll student, surrounded by friends, and Foster says he gets ahead in class work just so he can come visit her and ask her if she needs any help. Recently, Foster offered André two community service activities to choose between – sorting clothes for needy families or representing Communities In Schools as a leader at a meeting of school system representatives seeking to improve schools and the community. André chose both, a testimony to how far the young man has come.
Foster says that it’s been amazing to see André and other students she has served truly “change their lives and their world for the better.” And each student serves as a reminder of her critical role as a site coordinator in giving students the tools they need to take this transformative journey.