TAHOE/TRUCKEE - Both common sense and research tell us that the factors impacting student academic success extend far beyond the walls of the classroom. Whatever happens in the home, positive and negative experiences directly impact how our students learn. We know that when children are well nourished, nurtured and living in safe, stable homes they do better academically.
On the flip side, when students show up hungry, tired or exposed to the harsher sides of life such as domestic violence or substance abuse, it is more challenging to engage in classroom academics.
The Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee is composed of more than 45 health, education and social service agencies who work together to address the fundamental needs of children and families in our communities. Many of our partners play a critical role in providing "cradle to career" support services to students throughout Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
We recognize that student achievement is more than academic success and includes social and emotional development, supporting the whole child. When students come to school hungry and stressed, teachers are pulled away from their fundamental jobs of teaching to help students meet their basic needs. School-based support services work to mitigate the effects of stress, poverty, hunger and other societal factors on learning.
The recent Phi Delta Kappan Poll about public attitudes toward education shows that 70 percent of Americans blame societal factors for challenges facing schools today, such as the achievement gap and dropout rates. As a community, we have an obligation to take collective responsibility for the success of all of our students.
Community-school partner supports begin with our earliest learners. We know that the first five years of life are critical to an individual's development and a child's earliest experiences set the stage for success in school and life. The Truckee and North Tahoe Family Resource Centers work hand in hand with the elementary schools to provide classes and programs that support the complete development of young children.
Early literacy, health and enrichment classes such as "Mommy and Me" are offered on site at Kings Beach and Truckee Elementary and foster the social and emotional development of children. Supports embrace a school readiness philosophy - helping all children be ready for school by the time they enter kindergarten. Tahoe Truckee's recent designation as an All-America City is a stellar example of community-school based partnerships. Embracing the notion that both schools and community have a role in student success, we received the Award for our ambitious plan to address third-grade reading levels by focusing on school readiness, summer learning loss and school absenteeism.
Community supports continue throughout a student's educational career. The middle and high school years can be particularly stressful for adolescents. The 2010 California Healthy Kids Survey revealed that almost 25 percent of surveyed 11th graders felt so sad and hopeless for more than two weeks that they stopped participating in regular activities. Unused classrooms at North Tahoe and Truckee High have been converted into Wellness Centers and are focused on helping teens build school and social connections and deal with life's daily stressors.
Launched in spring 2012, the Wellness Centers were born out of a collaborative effort between TTUSD and community partners in response to sky rocketing numbers of teens in crisis turning to teachers and counselors for support. Funded by Placer County Mental Health Services Act dollars, the centers are open four days a week and provide a safe place for students to drop by, hang out, and chat with other students or a caring adult. In the few short weeks school has been in session, students have been able to attend stress reduction classes and "Sources of Strength," a Nevada County sponsored suicide prevention curriculum that trains students as peer advocates.
School Readiness activities and the Wellness Centers are just two examples of community-school partnerships at TTUSD. Tahoe SAFE Alliance, Adventure Risk Challenge, Gateway Mountain Center, Big Brother Big Sister, Project MANA, Bridges of the Sierra, Sierra Agape, Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence, the Nutrition Coalition and a host of other agencies provide supports crucial to student achievement.
We know students do better in school when the major influences on their learning and development - family, school and community resources - work together and take collective responsibility for student success. We are fortunate to live in a place where community-school partnerships are valued.
The Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee is a program of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation and receives additional support from First Five Nevada and Placer County and the SH Cowell Foundation. For further information please contact Alison Schwedner at Alison@communitycollaborative.org or 530-587-1776.
- Alison Schwedner is director of the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee.