Family liaison helps improve Garfield attendance

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Family liaison helps improve Garfield attendance
Garfield Elementary School

It’s a half-mile walk from the local apartment complex to Garfield Elementary School. Sometimes, especially on the rainiest and windiest days, students aren’t quite motivated to bundle up and head outside early in the morning. Sometimes they oversleep. And sometimes, while getting themselves ready for school in the morning, they don’t manage their time quite effectively.


Thanks to Garfield Family Liaison Mo El-Sokkary (“Mr. Mo”), most of those students make it to school on time anyway. If the students aren’t ready to begin their walk in the morning, Mr. Mo has been known to go knock on their door or call their parents. Sometimes, he’ll begin singing loudly outside their apartment door, which usually causes kids to run outside in a mixture of giggles and good-natured embarrassment.


Younger students report that they feel safer walking to school with Mr. Mo. “Walking without an adult makes me sad and scared,” said a kindergarten student, who added that he doesn’t know the rules about when to cross the street.


At the beginning of this school year, one of the first steps Mo took in his new role as family liaison was to begin daily walks to school for students. In the past, Garfield students participated in a monthly Walk N Roll event hosted by Intercity Transit. Those events were always well attended and Mo thought, why not do it every day?


“Mo walks students all the way to school – creating a parade of students singing songs, learning different languages, and having conversations about music, art and activities our students engage in,” said OSD Director of Whole Child Success Char Franz. “Families and students have reported feeling excited when Mo comes to the apartments in the morning as they eagerly wait outside of their doors. Mo’s visits in the morning have also been a pleasant reminder for families on those days when the alarm clocks don’t go off.”


On a recent chilly and foggy morning, spirits were high among the 20 or so students who followed the path to school with Mr. Mo’s group. The older students led the pack, with Mo playing the role of caboose to guide the younger students and corral any stragglers.


“The 10-minute walk has created a positive spectacle in the community,” Franz said. “Many of our students and their families who join in on this walk have shared a feeling of community that many are yearning for in today’s climate. Neighbors have come out to wave to our students, former Garfield students who are in middle and high school have joined the parade, and a special little cat mascot has joined a portion of this magical trek.”


Students have dubbed the neighborhood cat Garfield and often pet him or carry him along the way. “As soon as Garfield spots us, he runs to the group and he walks with the kids all the way to school,” Mo said. “Kids get to love on him and right before we get to that last crosswalk you’ll see him turn around and go back. He’s been a great cat and the kids look forward to seeing him.”


Staff members at Garfield report an improvement in school attendance since Mo began his daily walks. But attendance isn’t the only improvement that Mo’s made since he began work as a family liaison. Community and family connections with the school are being strengthened every day. Mo is the familiar and friendly face of the school. And with his charismatic and easygoing nature, families are eager to engage with him. Parents know who to call if they have questions about the school. And Mo is skilled at recommending local resources for families in need, including delivering food himself from the school’s food pantry.


“It’s just that bridge between families and students and the school. Sometimes, there are barriers and families need that person that can advocate for them and speak for them,” Mo said. “It’s also a desperate time. Families are more in need. It’s nice to have someone to visit them and sometimes bring them food. We are lucky that our school has a food pantry.”


Mo is one of 11 family liaisons hired at OSD elementary schools this year as part of the Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery PlanOpening in a new window. The family liaisons aim to facilitate a deeper partnership among families, educators, community partners and other stakeholders to support students in academic success, social-emotional well-being and college and career readiness.