Building a New Community — Wakefield, Nebraska


Last Updated: April 01, 2006
 

This article appeared in the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.

Introduction

The community of Wakefield, Nebraska created a Family Resource Center that has eased the transition for a small community experiencing rapid economic, cultural, and demographic change.

Background

The Wakefield School district is located in Wayne County, in northeastern Nebraska. The community experienced dramatic economic changes related to the farm crisis in the 1980s. Those changes continued when in the 1990s, Latino families began moving to the community to work in local industry. Unlike many rural school districts, enrollment in Wakefield schools has been increasing. In 1991 enrollment was 368 students — today it's over 500. The growth is mainly among Latino students. In 1991 the student population of Wakefield was all white. Now, the elementary school is 45% Latino and high school enrollment is over one-third Latino; many of the new students are in the process of learning English.

Early Development

Wakefield is home to the former Waldbaum's Egg Company, an egg processing plant owned by local businessman Dan Gardner. When the farm crisis of the 1980s forced many local women to seek employment off their farms, many went to work at Waldbaum's. The company opened a daycare center for workers.

Beginning in the early 1990s, newly immigrated Latino families began moving to the area. Many worked at Waldbaum's and used the daycare center. In the mid-1990s, Waldbaum's was sold to Michael's Foods, a much larger company. Gardner made a substantial contribution to the daycare center in order to keep it open, and Michael's agreed to continue subsidies for three years.

But the community was concerned that they would lose the daycare center and formed a committee, and eventually a daycare board, to explore their options. Things looked bleak when the daycare board hired local resident and early childhood specialist, Ereline Stubbs. "It was August 1997 and they told me the center would have to close if we couldn't figure out how to make it work by December," Stubbs remembers.

Program

Wakefield Family Resource Center

When Ereline Stubbs was hired, the program made a subtle but important shift. It converted its program from a traditional daycare center to a preschool that intentionally offered high quality education programs for three- and four-year-olds. That brought in some parents who were looking for early education for their young children and were willing and able to pay for it. It was enough to keep the center afloat through December.

By spring the Board realized that an early childhood center, even one that provided high quality preschool education, would be very difficult to keep going in a small rural community. In 1998 they decided to branch out and provide full family services as a Family Resource Center.

Once that decision was made, the group applied for state migrant preschool funding. In Nebraska a migrant is defined as anyone new to the school district in the past three years who works in agriculture. Many workers at the Michael's plant met the definition. The state was also looking for partnership programs, so the support from Gardner and Michael's foods helped leverage funds. By March there were six more children enrolled.

That summer, Mike Moody was hired as superintendent and one of the things that attracted him to the district was the plans for the Family Resource Center.

"I really liked that the community was working so hard on this project. And I could see the potential for this project to be a great partnership for the school," Moody says.

By fall, there were 21 more children enrolled in the center. And the Board decided to offer services for special needs children. They partnered with the school district to use federal IDEA funds and also to work with the regional service unit, which helps coordinate special education programs for several school districts in the area.

With this support, the Wakefield Family Resource Center was able to hire additional staff. They worked with the service unit to provide specialized services like occupational therapy and physical therapy on a regular basis and additional services as needed.

The Family Resource Center continued to look for opportunities — for needs to address. They applied for, and received, Even Start funding, which allowed the Center to offer a wider range of family services including adult education, English as a Second Language, GED classes, and a variety of parenting and referral programs. It also provides some after school care.

The Family Resource Center then partnered with the Siouxland Health Center in Sioux City, Iowa. Siouxland provides a full-service clinic on wheels, a van that travels to small communities in northeast Nebraska and southwest Iowa and is staffed by bilingual medical professionals. The medical van was a tremendous help in the community, which is located nearly an hour from a larger town with extensive medical services. At the time of this writing, the van and its bilingual staff were providing medical services in the aftermath of the hurricanes in coastal Louisiana. Wakefield looks forward to the time when the van returns.

Currently, 78 children, newborn to 8-years-old, and their families participate in Center programs.

The Wakefield Family Resource Center has also partnered with the local ministerial association in two significant ways. When the building in which the Center was located was condemned, they made arrangements with a local church to use their facility until a permanent building could be located or built. The Family Resource Center also helps to operate the community food pantry, a growing need in a community that has faced a number of plants and businesses leaving the region in the past year. Demands for emergency food have doubled in the past year.

The collaborations between the school and the Family Resource Center have been informal but powerful. They find that often where one partner is restricted the other is not. Their joint efforts expand their opportunities for grants and other funding. But most importantly as the institutions that are most directly engaged with families across the entire community, the school and the Family Resource Center together form a backbone of communication, engagement, and support that provides stability in a community that is undergoing rapid economic, cultural, and social change.

Lessons Learned

  • Good partnerships require people who can see the big picture, who can see how one thing leads to another and are willing to persist until others can see the value of the partnership and the work. 
  • This kind of work takes a lot of communication, constant conversation, and a long time. Don't give up. Sometimes it's baby steps all the way. Just celebrate every step.
  • Survival and growth is tied to connectedness. When people are able to figure out how they are alike and what everyone wants, it becomes easier to see how everyone can get there together.

Contact Information

Wakefield Public Schools
PO Box 330
Wakefield, NE 68784
(402) 287-2012

Ereline Clements-Stubbs
Director, Wakefield Family Resource Center
P.O. Box 698
Wakefiled, NE 68784
(402) 287-2521
erlines@yahoo.com

School Demographic Information (2003-04)

District Enrollment: 472
Grades Served: K-12
Percent of Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunches: > 42%
Percent Students who are English Language Learners:  >5%
Percent of Student Population:
      American Indian/Alaskan Native:  <1% 
      Asian/Pacific Islander: <1%
      Black, not Hispanic:  <1%
      Hispanic: >30%
      White, not Hispanic: <70%

Read more from the April 2006 Rural Policy Matters.



Related Categories: Rural Policy Matters

Related Tags: School-Community Partnerships