School officially starts for most of the district on August 23rd, but in the northwest feeder pattern, it never fully stopped this summer, it just shifted into a different gear.

Lesleyann Christensen is the Community Schools Site Coordinator at Monroe Elementary, and a program she helped launch and coordinate culminated Thursday morning with a picnic lunch provided by Iowa Legal Aid to DMPS families who live at the Hickman Flats Apartments, about six blocks from Monroe.

“DMPS administrative staff are visiting students and families as part of Community Immersion Day at Hickman Flats,” Christensen said. “Students have been gathering throughout the summer with staff from Monroe to participate in literacy programming and games. Thursday is the last day of programming and Iowa Legal Aid provided lunch for students and their families. They’re also presenting information to connect families with services to eliminate barriers to housing, employment, and food.”

Lawyers are usually serving subpoenas and the like, not lunch, but this event was seen as a way to help them get their feet in the doors of families they seek to help.

Kristie Kuntsman-Stern is the Senior Staff Attorney for Iowa Legal Aid and she said the early returns on the organization’s Community Stabilization Project, a partnership between ILA and DMPS, are encouraging, as evidenced by the turnout in the courtyard at Hickman Flats after skies cleared following a morning cloudburst.

“We are capitalizing on the trust that people here already have placed in their schools to get them to trust us too,” she said. “The work we do is a natural extension of so much that the schools are doing for families in need, so this partnership makes a lot of sense.”

Iowa Legal Aid is a nonprofit organization providing legal assistance to low-income and vulnerable Iowans who have nowhere else to turn in a variety of legal matters including landlord/tenant issues, benefits eligibility and bankruptcy.

Carla Brinkley came to Des Moines three years ago from Milwaukee. She lives at Hickman Flats with a daughter who’s at Hoover High and a son who attends Meredith Middle School. She’s become sort of a liaison between the ILA project and her community, based on her relationship with Christensen, who she clearly believes in.

“People need to help each other out,” Brinkley said, standing next to the covered pool in the courtyard that sat empty all summer. “It used to be that folks trusted their neighbors and that’s what I’m trying to get going here. I trust Lesley, she’s all about helping me and my kids, and that’s what I tell people, that this program can help them too.”

For her part, Christensen wanted to emphasize that teachers, who supposedly have summers off, have been engaged in this outreach twice weekly since school dismissed, going above and beyond their job descriptions and traditional roles.

Iowa Legal Aid’s emergence as a branch of the district’s Community Schools effort will be ongoing throughout the coming school year and so will our coverage of it. Already it’s offering services out of the DMPS Welcome Center every Wednesday and plans to open a clinic on the premises of King Elementary soon that will serve as a physical headquarters for outreach into schools throughout the district.

Community immersion, it’s called, filling empty lives with possibilities. Maybe a pool, too, in time for next summer.

Photos of Summer Immersion Program Celebration
End of Summer Celebration

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