Submitted by TOGETHER!
AAmid a housing shortage and an ongoing pandemic, many students and families still feel isolated and stressed. This year, the Olympia Community Schools team worked at TOGETHER! working to identify and address key threats to equity and wellbeing in partnership with the Olympia School District, students, families and others. By building relationships with customers and nurturing new partnerships to promote the health and well-being of students and families, TOGETHER! helped prevent homelessness and quickly re-accommodate students and families affected by homelessness and find stability in the face of COVID-related challenges. In addition to responding to immediate needs like these and supporting families with funds and warm recommendations to ensure stable housing, TOGETHER! Employees are also working to change systems.
We learned immediately that some middle schools offered many before and after school programs while others had very few, and that students attending virtual academies were truly isolated from their peers. Because middle school is a critical time when students learn important life skills, our team immediately understood that we wanted to help make access to before and after school and other enrichment and connection opportunities more equitable.
“We really created spaces for students to interact with other students outside of the classroom,” says program director Michael Dennis, because the support they need at this important time in young people’s lives guarantees the best chance of developing healthy relationships themselves, including a positive self-image, the ability to take responsibility for their actions, and the ability to form healthy relationships with those around them.
Community Schools Manager Diana was a key factor in the program’s success this year. Nominated by Reeves Principal Aaron Davis, Diana was named Laurie Dolan School Advocate of the Year for Reeves Middle School at a district-wide ceremony in late May. Diana enjoys her work as a rental helper, family support and programming to support the social and emotional needs of students.
“Hi! My name is Diana Perez and I work with the Olympia Community Schools Program to provide services to students and families at both Reeves Middle School and Washington Middle School. A large part of my job has been providing lunch and To create afternoon programs that focus on the social, emotional, and academic needs of the students.”
“As I began to network with students from both schools, I realized that students needed a safe place to learn, grow and connect with their peers. Knowing this, I started SPECTRUM in Reeves, which was attended by over 20 students to learn about LGBTQIA+ experiences, laws and local groups. Another after-school program was created thanks to the partnership with Window Seat Media and Meg Rosenberg to offer the Playback Theater program for students interested in theater and storytelling as a medium of expression.”
“At Washington Middle School, I noticed a particular culture that staff and students consistently represented, and that was friendliness. This inspired me to start Kindness Krew, where students learn about empathy and leadership. I also wanted to share my culture with the students and teach them a bit of Spanish, which led me to start the Spanish and Cultural Awareness Club where we learned about colors, music, food and basic introductions.”
“In the short time I’ve had these students in each program, I’ve learned the importance of having spaces for students to express themselves differently than they would in their traditional classroom. I have also learned the importance of supporting the overall well-being of our youth, particularly their mental health, as they begin to navigate their personal and social lives through school.”
By hosting and supporting before and after school groups, as well as lunchtime or club times, community school managers helped foster a sense of community while providing social, emotional, academic, and life skills to students furthest from educational equity were. “Diana created an inclusive and welcoming environment,” Dennis said, and as a result, “students felt comfortable asking her for resources or support.” Diana was one of 4 Community Schools Managers who led and supported dozens of activities and Served over 300 youth engaged in pre-school, after-school and after-school clubs and lunch breaks and other supportive services this school year to advance the social and emotional well-being of students in Olympic schools. Other offerings included creating safe spaces for students of color, supporting students with mental health issues, language and culture clubs, cultural cooking classes and more.
About community schools
Based on a national model, community schools provide comprehensive support for K-12 students and families. Currently implemented by TOGETHER! In the Olympia, Tumwater, and North Thurston school districts, community schools are locations (with school-based and mobile community resource centers), and community schools previously operated in Yelm are a series of school-community resource partnerships. Using schools as hubs, community schools provide a range of community supports and opportunities and remove barriers for students and families, resulting in improved student learning and healthier communities.
TOGETHER since 1989! has made it its mission to promote the health and well-being of all young people. Today, their three core programs are Community Schools Comprehensive Support and Case Management, Club House Extended Day and Summer Programs, and Host Homes, a pilot housing unaccompanied minor. Their programs and operations are an extension of their values of justice, community and system change. The work of TOGETHER! is at the forefront of public health science and educational equity and works strategically to realize a vision that all young people are supported, safe and valued. To learn more or TOGETHER! to support, visit the TOGETHER! Website.