A couple of forward-thinking school districts in our region are partnering with Communities in Schools of North Central Washington to develop innovative ways to help students who are struggling.

These collaborative efforts in Waterville and Orondo are creating powerful opportunities for the schools to address the needs of students who often are dealing with difficult home situations because they are experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental health challenges, food insecurity and the like.

Forward-thinking school leaders see the potential of partnering with local nonprofit agencies to address these challenges and by reducing those burdens on kids and families, students have a better chance of learning and developing as human beings. Schools cannot do this work alone and so the only rational path forward is collaboration and cooperation.

It seems to me we can and should wrap our arms around these students and their families with partnerships that create a more equitable opportunity for students to succeed in school and in life.

The Masai in Africa greet each other with a phrase meaning “and how are the children,” said Jessica Lara, the executive director Communities in Schools North Central Washington. Lara has spent her career devoted to finding ways to meet kids where they are and help them thrive, from teaching middle school, working for Catholic Charities and teaching early learning at Wenatchee Valley College.

She said it’s sobering to see how many kids and families are living in desperate poverty in our communities. Often, parents in these circumstances are so focused on surviving day to day that their children miss opportunities to grow and develop as students and human beings.

When districts like Waterville and Orondo contract with Communities in Schools Washington, a coordinator who knows these family challenges from personal experience works with teachers, parents and students to do a needs assessment.

Once these opportunities are identified, Communities in Schools North Central Washington and the school partner to provide specialized help. For many students, some additional group tutoring is needed. In other cases, the organization does more hands-on case management for families that are struggling. The nonprofit finds community partners like the Community Action Council and local businesses to meet needs that may not have anything to do with academics.

In one example, a family of four living in a one-room picker’s shack flipped a coin at night to see who got to sleep on a blanket. This was disrupting the child’s sleep. With a donation from the local Costco, the family received mattresses, Lara told me.

The national nonprofit has more experience in big cities. What Lara and her team are figuring out is how to be helpful in rural communities, where services are virtually nonexistent.

In Orondo, for example, there was no food bank until Communities in Schools North Central Washington developed one in conjunction with the school. Not only can students stop by and get food any time, but the the organization’s staff transported thousands of pounds of food to stock the small food bank. Now that the Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council has a mobile food bank, Communities in Schools North Central Washington staff can turn their attention to other challenges in the community.

Communities in Schools North Central Washington, said Lara, is committed to working in a way that the services will continue even if their nonprofit is no longer involved. This is the power of creative collaboration that the organization is developing in our region.

One thing I know about our region is that we care about all of the kids — not just the kids from middle class or wealthy backgrounds. We can and must find ways to give a hand up and when we do so, we create opportunities for people to break the cycle of poverty or whatever challenges the student or family is facing.

I love the model of Communities in Schools North Central Washington because it fosters creative collaboration and supporting that program is a clear message that each and every kid matters. For more information, check out cisncw.ciswa.org.

If we want all our kids to learn and grow, collaborations like the work of Communities in Schools North Central Washington are essential. I’m looking forward to interviewing the folks in Orondo and Waterville to gain a deeper understanding of the impact.

Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at rwoods@wenatcheeworld.com or 509-665-1162.

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