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New partnership promotes education in Kent

After-school study session: Ibrahim Hassan finishes up homework and worksheets provided by the staff at the Birch Creek Youth Center. - Michelle Conerly, Kent Reporter
After-school study session: Ibrahim Hassan finishes up homework and worksheets provided by the staff at the Birch Creek Youth Center.
— image credit: Michelle Conerly, Kent Reporter

The King County Housing Authority (KCHA), Kent School District (KSD), Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) and other community organizations are embarking on a unique partnership to help strengthen the educational foundation for KCHA students.

The new relationship has three main goals: to expose children living in KCHA housing to early learning, to encourage family engagement and to improve literacy.

To accomplish these goals, the exchange of data among the partners will be vital.

"It shows us gaps of where we can develop action plans that include family engagement," said Israel Vela, executive director of Student and Family Engagement for the KSD.

For the youngest children living in the Birch Creek, Valli Kee and Cascade Homes complexes, existing formal and informal learning programs such as Head Start or play-and-learn groups are held at the respective family and youth centers. The purpose of these programs is to better prepare children entering kindergarten.

To increase family engagement, the partnership established the Parent and School Academy (PASA). The pilot project, which involves Millennium and Pine Tree elementary schools, uses parent facilitators from various language groups and outreach volunteers to encourage parents to discuss the challenges hindering their child's learning. The goal of the PASA is to provide better learning environments at home while also serving as a forum for parents to address their needs and concerns.

Coinciding with the Race to the Top grant goals, the partnership initiated the Read to Succeed program. The focus is to help children to read at grade level up to the third grade. The programs offered at each community center already reinforce school curriculum; but with the supplemental grant money, the partners are able to enhance the programs to better serve the children's literacy and educational needs.

This push to strengthen basic education has materialized on a larger scale at the Birch Creek Youth Center. As part of the data sharing element, Dan Schiel, Birch Creek site supervisor for KYFS, tracks student attendance to show teachers a direct relationship between attendance in after-school programs and overall academic achievement.

Parents, kids and KYFS employees also can track a child's grades via the new information kiosks at the community centers. These kiosks help everyone stay informed on daily class work and also serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot where parents and students can directly communicate with educators.

"Oh my gosh, I feel like I've won the lottery," said Elsa Daly, facilitator and recruiter for PASA with the KSD. "It's just really nice that the community is trying to make a positive experience to address our issues with homework."

The new partnership overlaps in many areas but hopes to improve the school and life success of the 900 kids living in the three East Hill KCHA complexes. Efforts are geared toward eliminating children "falling through the cracks" and preparing students for the future.

"It's about breaking the cycle of poverty through education," said Rhonda Rosenberg, communications director for KCHA.

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