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State Senator Carol Liu Touts School-Community Partnerships

Published on Monday, October 14, 2013 | 8:46 pm

State Senator Carol Liu spoke Monday about how communities are collaborating with schools to boost student achievement.

Revenues may be limited these days, but schools and communities can use their existing resources to help young people succeed academically, Liu said to an audience at Madison Elementary School.

The senator was at the campus to kick off a statewide bus tour to explore how schools are using the nationwide Community Schools Strategy. The strategy has schools partnering with local governments or other groups to support students and strengthen their families.

Each school and community partnership differs according to different areas.

“It’s not always one size one size fits all,” Liu said. “The agenda will vary depending on needs and strengths in each community.”

Schools don’t need new funding to carry out the strategy, Liu said. Educators work with community groups to see what services they already have and redirect them toward improving student performance. The plan is to assist students of any socio-economic position. Help for young people extend outside the classroom to address health and social issues.

“It’s holistic,” Liu said. “We look at what our kids need.”

In Pasadena’s case, school district officials have teamed with city leaders and members of the public for a 3-year City/School/Community work plan to close the achievement gap that is linked to economic and social problems.

The pathway to college begins in elementary school, so one goal is early childhood development, said Brian McDonald, PUSD Chief Academic Officer.

School district officials are working with UCLA to gather data on what local parents need to support young people, said Mercy Santoro, Director of the Pasadena’s Human Services and Recreation Department.

People from the other sectors are also volunteering their time with young people. Staff from Jet Propulsion Laboratories is helping explain school science curriculums to students. Entrepreneurs from start-up companies and members of Innovate Pasadena are lending their expertise to Pasadena High School’s computer science academy. Business owners are also working with school district officials to expand the district’s summer youth employment program.

The district’s Healthy Start program is another existing service that addresses children’s needs outside the classroom and helps improve their home lives. Staff at the Madison Healthy Start Center has helped families who are about to be evicted find resources to keep their homes, said Mirsa Serrano, program coordinator for the Madison Healthy Start Family Center. Serrano has collected extra furniture from school staff to give to families with empty apartments. Staff members also help immigrant parents learn how to use the school system.

Esmeralda Cerezo, Madison’s PTA president, said the Healthy Start program has brought her family closer. Cerezo is a single mother of four boys and a high school dropout who moved to Pasadena from Los Angeles. Healthy Start program members gave her children help that no one in the Los Angeles schools ever did, she said. Cerezo began volunteering at the school because of Healthy Start, giving her more time with her children. She is also working on her GED. When Cerezo was given a choice to return to Los Angeles, she refused because Healthy Start gave her family stability.

“My children found a home here,” Cerezo said.

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