By Braden Hamelin 

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Cherokee Lane Elementary School students are back on the road, for field trips and other events co-sponsored with local organizations. As part of this program, Cherokee Lane is partnering with D.C. United to bring 100 students to a soccer game, one of a number of events that speaks to  the reach of the model program, which Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) launched in 2019. 

med shot school uncropped
Cherokee Lane Elementary serves children from College Park Woods.
Credit: Lauren Reeder

Cherokee Lane is one of nearly 100 public schools in the county designated as a community school. These schools serve as hubs that leverage local resources to turn the schools into community centers.

Since  becoming a community school, in 2019, Cherokee Lane Elementary has built a network of community partners that includes D.C. United, Redline Athletics and Artwork Now, according to Gesireth Mariscal, who coordinates the program at the school. 

Some of the school’s partners, including D.C. United, host events that give students opportunities to explore the community beyond the schoolyard. Mariscal noted that there are field trips scheduled for the next three months.. 

“This year, I think everyone’s really excited to finally be on the trip, especially after COVID[-19],” Mariscal said.

Mariscal says the partnerships can offer students experiences and exposure  they normally might not have. 

“As a community school coordinator we search out different vendors or businesses that are interested in partnering up with the school. … And then we get them to come into the school to help fulfill our needs. So at the beginning of the school year we do a needs assessment where we survey our community, our families, our staff, and see what’s really needed,” Mariscal said. 

Cherokee Lane Elementary’s partners  have helped with a range of issues, including food insecurity, and also offer kids with after-school sports programs. 

“I think the kids are really starting to see the difference. They’re learning how to eat healthy. They have after-school activities; they have mentors they can reach out to; they have mental health support,” Mariscal said. 

Cherokee Lane Specialist Teacher Amy Comisiak noted that the program strives to address changing needs within the community. Much of Comisiak’s work focused on families who’ve just moved to the United States and often need help settling in. She works collaboratively with the community school team to boost families’ access to both educational and community resources.

“With collaboration with the community school funds, we’re gonna get to take 392 students on field trips to things they probably haven’t gotten to see before,” Comisiak said, “I know when I was a kid, my parents took me to museums and stuff, but when the cost of transportation is an issue, that’s where the school gets to step in and create experiences for them that they may not have gotten on their own.”

PGCPS sees the initiative as a blueprint for schools across the country; indeed, the enrichment program is proving to be successful and popular here in Prince George’s County. And as word of the program spreads, more community partners are eager to get on board.

“It seems like everybody wants to jump in and help, and that’s really cool,” Comisiak said.