Meet Parent Ambassador Andrea McLean!
Connected Communities is working to live up to our name by introducing our residents to their neighbors. We'll be bringing you community profiles so you can get to know the names and faces of motivated and hardworking members of Beechwood and EMMA. First up is Andrea McLean, a Parent Ambassador with Connected Communities, a mother of fourd, and an all-around great person! Check out her story that covers everything from growing up in Jamaica to navigating the public school system to secure her son Noah a place at East High School.
Andrea was raised in Jamaica before coming to America at the age of 15. She cites a strong bond with her grandmother as one of the driving forces in her life. After moving to New York City, Andrea had to adjust quickly to the cultural shift. "I'm learning to be more confident and it's taken me a long time to become that way." That desire to branch out and be confident led her to Rochester where she moved with her children while pregnant with her youngest son, RC, last summer.
While on her way to East High School for a health fair soon after her move to Rochester, Andrea stopped at New City Cafe and 441 Ministries and learned about their summer meal program for children. She saw this as a perfect fit for 4-year-old Ariella and 6-year-old Avery Grace. "I [thought] 'Cool. I have kids and it's not far. I could bring them and it would be something for them to do in the summer. This will give their brains a little activity.'" That initial contact grew into a friendship with Children's Ministries Coordinator at 441 Ministries Erica Schiller. Erica would eventually put Andrea in contact with Connected Communities to encourage her become a Parent Ambassador in February of 2018. She also met Jason Taylor, the Community Coordinator of East High School and decided that was where she wanted her oldest son, Noah, to start high school.
Despite her success finding a way to connect with her neighbors in Beechwood, Andrea's struggles to establish her family in Rochester weren't over. Her oldest son was ready to start his first year of high school, but Andrea couldn't get him placed anywhere in the Rochester City School District. "My son Noah had graduated middle school, came here [to Rochester], and wasn't placed in any high school for at least three weeks last year." At one point, she was going to Rochester City School District multiple times and calling them nearly every day trying to get Noah placed. She remembers being very worried and thinking "He's missing out. Why can't he get into school?" Eventually, both of her school-age children were placed at other schools in the district. After Andrea became more familiar with the system and built important contacts, she was able to secure Noah a spot at East High School for this coming school year.
Andrea credits becoming a Parent Ambassador with Connected Communities as a major positive force in her Rochester experience. "It's good because I've been able to learn a lot more about the community. I've been able to get insights on navigating the whole school system." Being a Parent Ambassador has helped Andrea feel that she had the ability to directly help her kids while accessing the resources and knowledge of Connected Communities. "I'm hoping maybe I'll be one of those people who will be connecting and helping people the same way I was helped," she said. "When you are able to share in a supportive and safe environment, I do know that lives can change, so that keeps me motivated."
When asked about the biggest challenge of being a Beechwood parent, Andrea identified the limited resources for parents of young children. As the mother of 10-month-old RC, Andrea wanted the same type of stimulation and community for her baby son as she received at 441 Ministries for her Ariella and Avery Grace. "I wanted to do something educational for him." Andrea takes a bus to Irondequoit to try to find affordable programs to improve RC's educational experience early on to make sure he'll be kindergarten ready when he starts school. One of her goals is to organize parents of young children to bring back story time at the Sully Library in Beechwood. Andrea also saw limitations for neighborhood parents in the lack of safe, well-maintained housing with respectful landlords and quality grocery stores within walking distance.
Andrea's devotion to her kids is inspiring. When asked where she hopes to see her kids' education in 10 years, she has a strong vision for their future. "I want them to be understood by their teachers and be set up for success. I want them to be in an environment where there are services. Whatever their struggle is, there's support. They need to be able to want to reach for the stars. That's what I see for the 15-year-old and the 10-month old." With a mom like Andrea, we have a feeling they'll do just that.