Support and respect for SPS students and their families: a talk with Regina Bertholdo
What is the title of your new position?
I started my job as Director of Basic Needs and Housing Support Services this past February. It’s under the umbrella of the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC).
What attracted you to this position?
I was previously the Director of Enrollment here at Somerville Public Schools for 22 years. I enjoyed that work and my colleagues in the Enrollment Office. But I was ready for a new challenge, and saw this opportunity and jumped at it! My work in the Enrollment Office opened my eyes to the great need many in our community are facing with housing insecurity and food and clothing. And I’ve seen its negative impact on our students. It felt like a great opportunity to help.
What does your office do and can you describe your role at SPS please?
Our office supports unhoused students, students in foster care, and their families. We help them access clothing, food, transportation, shelter, and housing resources. We also help students and families who are at risk of homelessness to avoid it—if they’re doubling up in another family’s home, or about to lose their lease, for example. There are a lot of different circumstances that make families reach out to us. We want to get to know our families’ needs because if they’re not met, if they’re struggling, our students’ academic success can be much more challenging. Another part of this work is this office’s involvement in students' academic life meetings with school staff, and providing additional support when needed.
How did you get started in this type of work?
In my previous position as director of the Enrollment Office at SPS, I became aware of students and families who were struggling to maintain their basic needs. One of the mandates of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act is that each district has a liaison dedicated to work with children who are unhoused or in foster care. Those students have rights to quality education, transportation, housing, food, and clothing. We are currently working with about 50 students and their families.
What do you like about working in Somerville?
I am deeply committed to this community. I live in and have raised a daughter here. I am dedicated to our most vulnerable populations and understand the long-term impacts of poverty, and I want to help.
Are there any initiatives at SPS that excite you?
I am thrilled that we’ll be working with only one company to organize transportation for our students this fall in comparison to the several transportation providers we’ve had in past years. It should streamline our ability to safely get students to and from school on time.
What does a great day at your job look like?
Part of my job is to coordinate transportation for students to and from school. Among other things, a great day is when all students have a successful day at school and get to school and home again without delays. That enables us to better focus on all the other areas of this work.
What are your plans for the coming year?
I want to be sure that everyone in our school community knows about and can access the resources that are available to students who need them. If a student lives in a shelter, I want to make sure that we are in touch with every case manager and follow up with them regularly. If a student is having academic challenges, I want our team to work together to help them. A whole network of support is available, and it’s a team effort.
What gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about?
I am excited every day to help support families and have a positive impact in families’ lives. There are so many people who work together to make this happen—school staff; Jennifer Ochoa, our dedicated social worker; the staff here at the SFLC; the many housing coalitions and systems of care we work with; City of Somerville’s SomerPromise; Immigrant Services Unit (ISU); Office of Housing Stability; SomerViva and the Office of Immigrant Affairs; the Food Coalition; and more. It’s my mission to make everyone feel respected; it’s unthinkable that we have people in this community who are hungry.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I play guitar and love to read. Right now I’m reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming. And I just finished reading a biography of Fernanda Montenegro. She’s a famous Brazilian actress. During the pandemic I loved participating in Brazilian Facebook live shows. Sometimes I spoke on panels providing information and resources about COVID-19 and school updates, and sometimes I sat in and learned so much from other people. It was a great feeling to be part of a community during lockdown. And I love to cook, especially savory foods. I’ve been experimenting with baked veggie dishes using different flours. My best dishes are baked chicken and potato with homemade Italian sauce. And my Thanksgiving turkey is amazing. I marinade it for four days and it comes out looking like a magazine cover’s version of a turkey, lol!
What else would you like to say to the Somerville Public Schools community?
I love working here and helping people in my community. Each day is different and collectively we make a difference. And if you or someone you know is in need, our office is here to help. I can be reached by email at email@example.com, or by phone at 617-625-6600 x6994. And we have more information on our district website at https://somerville.k12.ma.us/basicneeds.
---Abby Luthin, Grants and Communications Specialist