A new program funded through a three-year, $1.5 million Prop. 47 grant will provide direct services through a family and community engagement liaison with the goal of reducing chronic absenteeism and suspension rates at schools throughout the San Benito County. It also aims to engage parents to take an active role in their students' academic progress. San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum presented the California Learning Community for School Success Program at the Sept. 12 SBHS board of trustees meeting.
"We put together a grant application in the springtime that would benefit the county office of education, Aromas-San Juan, the high school district and really critical areas," he said. "This is just another example of coming together as agencies to work on the betterment of not only students but of families and our overall school."
SBHSD will be working in collaboration with the San Benito County Office of Education and the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District on a multi-tiered system designed for students, staff, and families.
In Phase 1, a family and community engagement liaison will be hired. The full-time position will be housed at the SBHS campus but will work between the three agencies and different campuses throughout the county. The board unanimously approved the position later in the meeting.
"They will be reaching out to parents, guardians, families of students who have absenteeism issues, possibly chronic truancy, but also trying to get to the root of the issue," Tennenbaum said.
Phase 2 is the implementation of a "Parent University."
"One of the things that we really focused on was, not only how to we reach our students, but how do we reach mom and dad?" Tennenbaum said during his presentation. "We have some lofty goals around our Parent University, which would begin in the springtime. Parent University is basically an opportunity for mom and dad, parent, guardian, could even be grandparent, to really learn about different aspects of not only high school life but, college life."
The university would focus on a variety of issues including financial aid (FAFSA), college applications, college admission requirements, anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug identification in the home.
"Really what it is, is providing an opportunity to bring in experts into our school district, as well as with the county, and Aromas and San Juan to help work with parents on issues that they are facing with their students, that are real issues," Tennenbaum said.
The third phase would provide staff with social and emotional development training centered on building or improving relationships with students and their families.
"The social-emotional portion is something we are seeing across the board. It's one of those things that as we focus more and more on academics, we have lost the social-emotional portion and so now we have to bring that back in," added SBCOE Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Logue.
During public comment, former higih school board president Ray Rodriguez shared a personal story about why he believed the program was important and urged the board to find a way to make it last more than three years.
"I've been advocating for something like this for a very long time," he said. "In the next day or two my wife and I are headed off to a neighboring state where we have our nephew's son —15 years old, just started high school. Obviously, this wouldn't have maybe made the difference but it could have been a little chink in the arm or however you want to say it," he said. "During his first week of high school my nephew came home and found his son had committed suicide. If his parents had had resources…."
Gavilan College Partnership with Club Ed Tutoring Program
Retired Spanish teacher Rachel Flores-Zepeda gave a presentation about the Gavilan College partnership with the high school's Club Ed tutoring program.
In October 2016, Flores-Zepeda was contacted by Randy Brown, associate dean of community development and grant management for Gavilan, about a partnership with Club Ed.
"He was asking for about four to five high school seniors who would be willing to be teachers' aides in college evening adult ESL (English as a Second Language), GED, citizenship classes."
Started in 2003, Club Ed offers tutoring services for all grades in all subjects and is aimed at encouraging students to become teachers.
"Our club objective is to encourage all students to become teachers with a concentration in recruiting minority students to consider themselves as a future teacher," said Flores-Zepeda. "I can say with great pride that about 95 percent of the student membership makeup is Latino. They all for the most part are bilingual with high GPAs."
During the presentation, she explained there have been some struggles with getting students to commit to the program.
"I thought I would have at least 20 students who would be willing to step up to the plate. I thought it was going to be a lot easier than what happened," she said. "The challenge is that, it's not that the students are not prepared, but I was looking for commitment. I needed students who would be committed for an entire calendar school year. They couldn’t be involved with a lot of other things."
In the end, she was able to recruit four students and is still looking for one more.
Saul Martinez is one of those students. Also serving as Club Ed president, he said he felt a personal connection to the program.
"My parents both came from Mexico. They immigrated here. They both, to survive in the United States, understood that they need to speak English. Both my parents took courses at Gavilan College, ESL courses, citizenship, and reading and writing," Martinez said. "For me this is kind of full-circle. I'm here in this program because I want to give back to Gavilan, who helped my parents succeed and learn the English language," he said.
Students are paid $12 an hour to tutor six hours a week throughout the school year.
Funded through Title V grants, the program is aimed at expanding and improving educational opportunities for Hispanic students.
Club Ed also has two other programs: The first is an independent tutoring program in which high school students privately tutor children in kindergarten through grade 12 on a variety of subjects.
In October, Club Ed will be starting the STEP program, through which students will volunteer their time at Calaveras Middle School to help students with reading and math.