Knowing You Belong: Family Engagement at Aspen Community School

“We realized and learned that with the support of each other and the group, we can get through anything. It’s about knowing you belong.” – El Otro Lado Parent Participant, 2019

El Otro Lado (EOL), which translates to “The Other Side,” is a program of the Academy for the Love of Learning that nurtures connection, compassion and community. By exploring the other side(s) of who we are, individually and collectively, we come to discover that our stories have the power to touch others, build understanding, and restore ourselves and our world.

During a recent warm and sunny evening, parents and guardians, grandparents and siblings gathered to celebrate their year together. This EOL culminating event at Aspen Community School was highlighted by food and laughter, by generations of family making art together, and by the love and support of community profoundly felt as each participant stood to share their story.

EOL began in 2009 and has impacted more than 1,500 youth, educators, artists and community members with its work in schools, classrooms and community settings. During the EOL training workshops, educators are guided into reflective explorations of the Academy for the Love of Learning’s practices and learning model, and discover innovative ways to engage in a collective creative process that explores connections to land, culture, sense of home and belonging, and the stories that connect us.

This school year, Communities in Schools (CIS) Coordinator Stephanie Walther, and Aspen Community School Counselor Socorro Maldonado joined the 2018/2019 cohort for the EOL training program, with an aspiration to strengthen family engagement at Aspen Community School. Below, they share in their words the impact of the program:

“As the school year comes to an end and we reflect on our parent group’s journey to the other side, we can see and feel the growth that has transformed each and every one of us as friends and parents. The process has helped us build a sense of community, and many of our parents have become an integral part of our school. We have broken down the barrier between school staff and parents. In doing so, we’ve experienced the benefits of listening to each other and supporting each other to create a solid school community.”

As El Otro Lado’s first decade comes to a close, we will be stepping back for the 2019/2020 school year in order to reflect and update the curriculum. Our new Learning Guide will incorporate the very best from the past 10 years, creating a pathway for the next expression of this vital program. We welcome ideas from participants and partners and look forward to relaunching in the 2020/2021 school year. To learn more about bringing El Otro Lado into your school or community setting, please contact Barbara Deswood.

This originally appeared in the Communities in Schools New Mexico blog