MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - “It’s bigger than what you can imagine,” Sakia Dixon said.
Dixon is one of five social workers in Montgomery Public School. She currently works with about 30 families, most of which have multiple children in the system.
“A lot of our families are struggling," said Dixon. “They’re struggling financially. They’re struggling with generational type of situations.”
Dixon said the best part of her job is watching students who come from tough circumstances succeed, but she said it takes a lot of patience, relationship-building and meeting them where they are.
“Once they walk in, they become our responsibility,” said Dixon. "If the food is an issue, we have the food in our schools. Then we have backpack programs where we send food home over the weekend because you know if they don’t have it, they’re going to come in ready for that...we have to take into consideration that we have this amount of time to teach but we also have to get them prepared in that moment to receive what we’re able to give them. A lot of times it’s a matter of having things in place, at the building, for the children at that time.”
MPS' latest data showed that more than 70 percent of families in the system live below the poverty line. MPS Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore said it is a “big issue.”
“MPS has more Title 1 schools than most systems,” Moore said.
38 of MPS' 53 schools receive the Title 1 federal funding intended to serve low-income students. All 11 of the schools on the state’s “failing schools list” are on that list as well.
“There is a relationship, but that’s not an excuse,” Moore said.
Moore said the system’s educators have to put in the work to close the achievement gap, especially when working with so many students who are coming from disadvantaged circumstances,
Tara Hammonds, a second grade teacher at Dozier Elementary School, said it’s about recognizing the problems in the classroom and working to address them.
“It’s fair because it’s true,” said Hammonds. “It’s the reality at hand. You try to make them feel good and comfortable because they may be uncertain or embarrassed otherwise.”
Hammonds said her students come to to school hungry on the daily basis.
“Sometimes they’ll come in sleepy, and I realize that child didn’t go to bed the night before because there was no one home to put them to bed,” said Hammonds. “They won’t shower or brush their teeth because no one was there to tell them because their parents have to work.”
Hammonds said she spends about half of her classroom time going over things like social skills and hygiene. She said those skills are just as valuable to her students. However, what the students lack can impact their academic offerings.
“I see it in a lack of resources they have at home,” said Hammonds. “People assume everyone has a computer. That’s not true. It limits what we can assign. It puts them behind. We recently did a project where they had to print out pictures. We had to give some students time in the library to do it, and for some others, I was printing off pictures.”
Moore said employees in the system, from teachers to administration, work daily to close the gap and help students and families achieve regardless of where they come from. She believes it takes more than just MPS to set students up from greatness.
“The more you have, I think, the better it will be," said Moore. “We’re trying, as a school system. I’m trying, as their leader, to get us moving forward toward doing the things we need to do to, but it does not exempt the community, the local leaders and anybody else. You’re not exempted from doing what you have to do to make the public school system become what it can. We’re in the capital of the state of Alabama; we should be a shining star.”
While Moore said the community could do more for the system, she said MPS does currently have a number of strong partnerships that help thousands of students.
Tom Salter, senior communication officer for MPS, said there are a number of community groups that work with MPS’s families and social workers at both the district and school levels.
Here is an interactive map of a number of groups that work with MPS to provide services for the district as a whole
In addition to these partnerships, Salter said each individual school has its own partnerships to serve families.
“Schools partner with at least one faith-based organization and a variety of local businesses, non-profit agencies, universities and civic groups,” Salter said.
MPS has a backpack program which provides weekend meals for MPS students and their families. Salter said schools currently partner with about 12 schools to provide those meals. There are also a number of schools receiving donations from Montgomery Food for Kids, a program sponsored by HandsOn River Region.
Algenae Dixon, a single mother of four in MPS, said she has benefited from the weekend meal program at Sidney Lanier High School. She also volunteers to help serve other families in need.
“I am less fortunate, but I help so many children,” said Dixon. “I am grateful for all of the programs at Lanier.”
Sakia Dixon said hundreds of children are served every year in the system with uniform and supplies donations as well.
How to Help
Salter said MPS welcomes additional community partnerships. If you have a service or business that can be an asset to the system’s impact on the community, you can contact Camille Anderson-Finley, the director of family and community engagement. Her phone number is 334-223-6735.