A group of community organizations is working together with the goal of helping parents and increasing student achievement.
Backed by a $250,000 grant, a group of community organizations in Kent plans to significantly boost the role of parents in three elementary schools, then gauge whether that helps boost student reading scores.
Over this school year, the grant will fund a series of workshops to train parents in literacy activities and, especially for immigrant parents, give them help in figuring how to navigate the Kent School District. Parents also will be matched with underperforming students so they can give them one-on-one assistance in reading, may help develop after-school activities such as a club where students can learn folklorico, a traditional Mexican dance.
It’s the first time these six community groups have worked together to connect schools and families, said Mirya Muñoz-Roach, director of Centro Rendu, a program that St. Vincent de Paul launched in 2013 to increase services for the Hispanic community in South King County
“Historically, we’ve had nothing,” Muñoz-Roach said.
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In her capacity at St. Vincent de Paul, Muñoz-Roach encountered Spanish-speaking families who faced many barriers — poverty, transportation, language, work schedules — that prevented them from connecting with their children’s teachers and schools.
Many had no experience with the American school system, and she heard from counterparts in other organizations that similar barriers existed for families who moved to Kent from Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
So Centro Rendu joined forces with the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, Communities in Schools of Kent, Community Network Council, Iraqi Community Center of Washington and Somali Youth and Family Club to create the Kent Education and Equity Project.
That group successfully convinced the Road Map Project, a coalition of the Seattle and six South End school districts, to supply the grant that’s allowing the group to revamp literacy activities, parent mentoring and community services in and around the three schools: East Hill, Kent and Park Orchard.
Those three campuses have a high enrollment of black and Hispanic students, and students who are learning English.
“There’s a shared experience of being on the margins and knowing our communities are struggling at multiple levels,” Muñoz-Roach said. “When a child isn’t performing, it’s not just because they don’t speak the language. Maybe (the parents) don’t have a third-grade education of their own, or poverty’s the main issue.
“We want to rally the community around the children and their schools to support these families,” she added. “That’s what we’re about: How do we get the community to understand the work of the schools and support each other?”
That nascent effort has been slow to start, especially since the partnership underestimated how long it would take to draw up the necessary paperwork with the school district.
As they wait, however, the groups involved have hosted their own workshops to teach parents about the education system and other services in the area. And families at Park Orchard recently started an after-school reading program.
Ultimately, the groups hope to serve 248 families and 103 third-grade students, with the goal of helping at least 45 percent of them pass the state’s reading exam.
Last year, only 21 percent of third-graders at East Hill scored that high. The passage rate was slightly higher — about 29 percent — at Park Orchard and reached 41 percent at Kent Elementary.
The Kent partnership also recently received an additional $150,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The partners will set goals for math achievement as part of that grant, Muñoz-Roach said.