Family Works with Pathways Staff to Overcome Obstacles and Keep Kids in School

Written by Caroline Perron and Cheresse Butler, past and current Pathways to Potential Eligibility Specialists at Lincoln Elementary School in Warren, Michigan

Kimberly Salan and Stan McLaren have faced many barriers throughout their lives but they're not about to let anything stand in the way of their children's academic success.

Ms. Salan experienced a terrible tragedy at the age of three when she witnessed her mother's murder by a family acquaintance. After a near-miss shot to her six-year-old sister, the gun was turned toward her and she was shot in the face. Having lost her father to alcoholism six months earlier, she and her sister were raised by their elderly grandparents. In her teens, she met Stan McLaren who was losing his single mother to cancer. Kim and Stan have been together ever since and share three children - Savannah, Lonnie and Lilli.

 "Nobody likes to ask for help but all we have is each other. We don't have parents and stuff like that. It's just him and me and the kids," said, Ms. Salan when asked about benefits of working with Pathways staff in the schools. "And, we have Ms. Perron," chimed in Mr. McLaren referring to the family's Pathways to Potential Eligibility Specialist (ES), Caroline Perron. McLaren Family 

QUICK THINKING ES WORKER HELPS FAMILY CREATE SOLUTIONS INSTEAD OF CHANGING SCHOOL DISTRICTS

The Salan-McLarens, known to be upstanding in their community, were key to helping undercover police with neighborhood watch in the Lincoln schools neighborhood. Unfortunately, this left them targeted as narks. One day last December, when the middle school let out for early dismissal, there was a physical confrontation between two students which the principal attempted to break apart. Kim and Stan got out of their car to offer assistance to the principal when snowballs were thrown at their heads and the crowd grew surrounding the parents. A male student stepped up to Ms. Salan and threatened to shoot her in the face. Given her tragic history, this threat terrified the entire family. Ms. Salan and Mr. McLaren quickly gathered their two older children and raced them home. Just before they left the school grounds, another parent stopped their car and threatened to set their home on fire. Frightened, the Salan-McLarens returned to Lincoln Elementary to collect their youngest, third grader Lilli, from the front office. The principal was unavailable and Mr. McLaren demanded all three children be permanently transferred out of the district. Caroline Perron, Department of Human Services Pathways to Potential Eligibility Specialist, happened to be in the office at the time and suggested that they step into the principal's office to discuss the situation. Ms. Salan and Ms. Perron had worked closely throughout this year and a trust had developed between them. They agreed to discuss the removals before getting Lilli from her classroom.

Ms. Perron immediately asked the secretary to page the principal, Justin Cabe, Officer Williams of the Warren police department who works on-site, and Mr. Heitman, the DHS Success Coach at the school. The middle school and high school principal were also asked to drop what they were doing and join the meeting. Within minutes, the team of principals, Officer Williams, the parents, Ms. Perron and Mr. Heitman were together at one table discussing a strategy to keep the family in the district safely and securely. Since the parents were worried about the children's safety, the team devised steps for the three students to get safely to and from school, as well as between classes. The children were given permission to leave five minutes before the end of classes to get thru the halls quickly, and also permission to leave five minutes early at the end of the day. The suspects that had threatened Ms. Salan were pulled up through the school's database and identified. At no point did anyone try to judge whether the family's fears warranted such protection. They merely did whatever it took to make the family feel safe.

THE TIRELESS PATHWAYS STAFF AND FAMILY DON'T GIVE UP

The family and Ms. Perron worked together throughout the school year removing barrier after barrier, including shutoff notices for utilities, medical battles with SSI, and making sure that they had coverage through the gaps in coverage for their ongoing medications. They faced an eviction and worked flawlessly through the Eviction Diversion Program with the Lincoln High School Success Coach, Timothy Franco. "They are a model of how the Eviction Diversion Program should work," said, Franco.  McLaren Family

"Overall, this family has always been a complete pleasure to work with. They have given me deep gratification in performing my duties as a Department of Human Services worker. Families like this make you feel like you're putting the "human" back into Department of Human Services," stated Ms. Perron.

THE SALAN-MCLARENS ONE YEAR LATER

The Salan-McLaren's current Pathways to Potential Eligibility Specialist, Cheresse Butler, was able to catch up with the family in a recent visit at school. "Lilli is really enjoying 4th grade and likes her teacher, friends and learning new things. She is learning to become a better reader and learning new math techniques and her favorite subject this year is science," reports Ms. Butler.

When she spoke with mom, Kimberly stated that overall she is pleased with how the school year is progressing. "We have been welcomed with open arms to discuss any problems that have come up," said, Salan. Savannah (11th grade) is an honor roll student at Lincoln High School and a captain on her volleyball team. Lonnie is in 8th grade at Lincoln Middle School is an honor roll student and he a student ambassador.

"I have observed how sweet and kind Lilly is she is always willing to help her classmates, other teachers and even popped in to see if she could help me; and I do enjoy getting my Lilly hugs every day, it is a pleasure to assist this family," reports Ms. Butler.

This article is one of a series highlighting community partners working with DHS to improve attendance in Michigan schools. Through Pathways to Potential, Department of Human Services has placed success coaches and other employees in over 200 schools across the state. These people work one-on-one with families to identify and remove barriers to children attending school. We are always looking for new partners, volunteers and donors. Visit www.michigan.gov/pathwaystopotential to learn how you can get involved.