September is Attendance Awareness Month!

Carmela Castanedaby Carmela Castaneda
Community School Director

Attendance is the most critical part of supporting a student. The success of a student is highly dependent on whether a student shows up to class every day. The Atlantic wrote on an article about “The Economic Cost of Growing Truancy”, which states that “it doesn’t matter how good a school is if students don’t show up to class”.

In 2012, about 7.5 million students were chronically absent from schools nationwide. And, the consequences of truancy aren’t limited to a few missed lessons. There is a litany of long-term side effects that affect not just the children, but also their communities and the nation’s economic health as a whole.

Girls at Granite Park Jr. High

Girls at Granite Park Jr. High

Granite Park Junior High believes in this statement, and the culture of prioritizing attendance makes all the difference for students. Granite Park doesn’t have only one single month dedicated to attendance awareness, but instead they have a strong culture and policy in place to help work toward making sure every student shows up to class.

Kim Heppler, the Attendance Dean, emphasizes that attendance awareness is an ongoing matter that happens every day through school culture and communication with parents and students.

Granite Park stresses attendance every day of the year. We have the toughest tardy policy in the Granite School District, which results in us having the lowest tardies for the year in the district for the last eight years. We communicate with parents through the whole process and express the many reasons why lateness is important and does not just affect their child when they are late. Continued lateness results in after-school detention and making up the missed time.

Our attendance policy in regards to absences is also watched carefully. Ten years ago we only had seven out of 10 kids attending daily. The last seven years, our daily average attendance is above 91 percent for the year. Again, we accomplish this through great communication with parents. Students have seven days and then our attendance tracker sends a letter home letting parents know their child is missing too much. If the issue hasn’t been resolved, at 14 days the parent and student are required to attend a pre-court meeting. Granite Park is involved with parents and students all through the attendance process.

Granite Park Jr. High

We have a strong belief that everyday attendance is important to our students’ success.

Attendance makes all the difference in ensuring a student is academically successful. Granite Park believes that attendance awareness month and ongoing strategies, policies, and incentives throughout the school year support students in attending class on-time and every day.

25 Years at Lincoln Elementary – Renate Brunsvik Changes The Odds!

Amanda Matthewsby Amanda Matthews
Lincoln Elementary United Way Community School Director

Approximately 55 percent of students at Lincoln Elementary in South Salt Lake are English Language Learners (ELLs). Renate Brunsvik, Lincoln’s ELL Instructor, is a vital part of the Lincoln community. I sat down with Renate to get her perspective on our students and the work that is happening to support them.

Lincoln Elm ELL Instructor, Renate Brunsvik (left) and ELL Paraprofessional, Pare Kaderi (right)

Lincoln Elm ELL Instructor, Renate Brunsvik (left) and ELL Paraprofessional, Pare Kaderi (right)

  1. How long have you been at Lincoln?
    1. 25 years
  1. What do you love most about working here?
    1. The students and their diversity and their backgrounds.
  1. Tell me about the students here at Lincoln.
    1. The students I work with come from all over the world and speak almost 30 different languages. Their parents want to be supportive but usually don’t speak English. However, we love what they add to the school and bring such cultural diversity. Families are quick to come in and help their kids in math. The students that I work with are usually very eager to learn and want so much to fit in. I see them becoming Americanized, they love soccer and pizza. One thing I have noticed is that it takes a while for students to integrate and they often hang out with students from their same culture. One thing I would wish for them is that it was easier for them to feel like a complete part of the school. But that just takes time as they learn English.
    2. I love hearing the parents and children talk about what they miss about their home countries. Our Arabic families talk about palm trees, and wonderful fruits, the Burmese talk about the greenness of the jungle, their gardens, and the fishing, which they still love to do here. The Nepali Families talk about holidays and special foods, however, many Nepali families only remember being in refugee camps. Many parents were well educated back home, however, here they work as sweepers or cooks. They are looking at America as a way for their children to succeed educationally as they had before they came here. We notice that parents all value education because they made sure that even in the refugee camps there were schools set up.
    3. Also, I just love the colorful clothes, the food, the different holidays and celebrations.
  1. We recently had training as a school around supporting ELL students through co-teaching in the classroom. What was your biggest take away?
    1. ELL students need access to grade-level academic material for all subjects, and I’m hoping that as we keep them in the classroom more, we will see them grow. They understand science and math, they just don’t understand the English that goes along with it.
  1. If you could ask our community to help support our students, what would you like to see?
    1. Read with them every night and help them with homework. It’s wonderful when families new to this country have one friend that comes over and supports them in understanding American culture and the education system. I would also like to see all our refugee parents be able to get jobs.
Lincoln Elem students with backpacks from Stuff the Bus

Lincoln Elem students with backpacks from Stuff the Bus

Data, Screening, and Outreach – How the ELN is Working to Better Help Kids!

chris-ellisby Chris Ellis
Partnership Director, Early Learning Outcomes

The Early Learning Network (ELN) is focused on two outcomes for all children in our community: 1) increasing the number of children who are demonstrating age-appropriate development, and 2) entering kindergarten ready to learn.

This group has developed, scaled, and aligned numerous strategies that have supported these main objectives. One issue, however, that has impeded the group’s ability to increase age-appropriate development rates in Utah, is the lack of baseline data that is representative of a given area. The group has implemented known interventions that have proven results, but has yearned to know about the impact of these strategies. In the past, it had been difficult to collect and store data from developmental screeners, so that the group can have access to this important information. Recently, however, through the group’s Collective Impact work and a partnership with the Department of Health, we have been able to collect and better understand the data from a specific developmental screener, the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). With this data, the group is developing a strategy to more effectively address the needs of screened children and increase the number of children who receive the screener.

PreK-MG_4893-150dpiSo, what is the ASQ? The ASQ is a developmental and social-emotional screener that monitors a child’s growth in five domains. This screener emphasizes the parent-child connection and relies on a parent’s knowledge of their child’s development. The ELN will use the data from the ASQ to better understand the development of children in the five domains in our communities, and develop and tailor strategies to support the needs indicated by the scores. The group will also conduct outreach to providers and pediatricians who are not currently screening children to share with them the importance of tracking a child’s growth through these screeners.

To further this work, the group is developing a community assessment to share with providers, pediatricians, and other organizations who work directly with young children. The intent of this assessment is to gain knowledge about the current processes behind ASQ administration, learn how providers are connecting children to services based on their scores, and increase the number of organizations that are screening children with the ASQ.

PreschoolThis is exciting progress for the ELN and it would not be possible without the vital Collective Impact partnerships that drive our shared work. Thank you to all of the partners who have, and will contribute to this project, that will ultimately allow us to better serve all children in our community.

Roosevelt Elementary Brings the BBQ to The Community!

meredith_mby Meredith Muller
Roosevelt Elementary Community School Director

On Wednesday, May 13th, Roosevelt Elementary hosted its first of what we hope to be many family barbecues at Valley Center Park. With over 650 people in attendance, this inaugural event was a huge success!

As a Community School, Roosevelt serves as a hub for services and resources for our students and their families. Ideally, families are able to easily and frequently visit the school to utilize these resources, attend events, and get to know our teachers and staff. However, with the majority of Roosevelt’s families living miles away from the school and not having access to transportation, getting parents to the school has not been the easiest thing to do. We have hosted events at Roosevelt in the past, such as parent-teacher conferences, family nights, and celebrations with great success. But, we wanted to find a way to take the burden of traveling to our school off our families so we could foster the community we knew existed. We wanted to meet our families where they were—literally!

RooseveltThis is what made our barbecue so special. As all of us with family and friends across the country know, investing in those long-distance relationships must be more intentional than the relationships we have with those who live next door. Roosevelt wanted its families to know how much their engagement and shared ownership in their children’s education is appreciated. For the first time, instead of parents and students returning to the school for an event, Roosevelt traveled to them.

RooseveltAnd there was more that made this event truly significant: we had more than just teachers in attendance. We had the families (and pets!) of our teachers and staff, but we also had representation from so many of the Collective Impact partners that make Roosevelt a successful community school. We had employees of the City of South Salt Lake, the International Rescue Committee, Granite School District, and more. Roosevelt’s Coach Ken of Playworks, a national organization committed to increasing positive behavior through play, hosted games and activities—including some improvised four square using just the sidewalk cracks as boundaries. Some of our students who attend the afterschool program at Sunnyvale Neighborhood Center, run by the Asian Association of Utah, finished soccer practice in the park then came to eat with us as well.

RooseveltThis barbecue was more than dinner; it was a true representation of the passion we all share for our students and families to be healthy and successful.

5 Things I Learned at Lincoln Elementary School’s Cultural Night

Amanda Matthewsby Amanda Matthews
Lincoln Elementary Community School Director

I am genuinely, incredibly inspired by the community at Lincoln Elementary. On March 19th Lincoln hosted its first annual Cultural Celebration Family Night, with dances, poetry, and food representing the variety of cultures of our students. The compassion and community that was displayed highlighted, for me, five lessons that deepened my commitment to and passion for our Community School efforts.

1. Students are dedicated.

For two weeks prior to the event, students volunteered to learn and repeatedly practice new cultural dances, a different one for each grade level. We were fortunate enough to have the connection to Cottonwood High School, where we were able to reach out to students and ask them to allow us to film instructional videos for various cultural dances that could in turn be taught to our elementary students. While we weren’t able to have every culture at our school represented through dance, we were able to showcase Native American, Mexican, Utahn, Burmese, East African, Middle Eastern, and Nepali cultures. The enthusiasm and effort that students put into their performances was incredible!

IMG_69502. Communities turn out.

We were thrilled to have over 500 people attend our event, a huge number for our school! Additionally, a group of high school girls from the Hser Ner Moo Community Center came out and gave a wonderful performance of a Sundanese dance. It was great to see so many people come together.


3. Tamales go a long way to building community.

We all know that food is a great way to build connections and cross boundaries. One special piece of our Cultural Night was the variety of food that was available to families that reflected their own culture. There were tamales, African sambosas, and Middle Eastern dolmas; all of which caused excitement among the students. Students were able to see food at school that they have seen their parents prepare at home.

IMG_72464. Original student poems speak of life, friends, and homes.

Another aspect to our Cultural Night was the announcement of the winners of the student poetry contest. Many of our students participated in the contest and wrote about their own personal culture and families. First place went to a very talented second grade girl, who wrote about her life both in Nepal and here in the United States. We have some talented poets at our school!

IMG_68515. Dance brings people together.

The final performance of the night was our Native American closing ceremony dance, led by 6th grade students and their teacher. Slowly, they moved from the stage into the seating area and grabbed hands of audience members until almost the entire auditorium was on their feet, dancing together. It was an incredible feeling of community that even weeks later, still brings a smile to my face. It reminds me that, together, as a community, we will create bright futures for students.



Promise South Salt Lake — United Way Partnership Receives National Praise

CherieWoodCherie Wood,
Mayor of South Salt Lake

….but the real reason for celebration happens here at home, in our community!

Untitled2Last month, I was pleased to present the Promise South Salt Lake model at the National Afterschool Summit at the University of Southern California. The event, hosted by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, provided a forum to celebrate our work in partnership with United Way of Salt Lake and to be recognized as a national example of excellence. Education experts as well as technology innovators, leaders from the private sector, celebrities and political allies of afterschool, came together at the summit to pledge their support, raise public awareness of the importance of afterschool programs, and highlight the resulting benefits to school age children, their families and communities. I was excited to have the opportunity to share information about the 10 Promise SSL Neighborhood Centers that enable us to deliver services and resources throughout the city. (5 centers are co-located in our Community Schools, and 5 deliver services in community-based locations.) I am proud of the accomplishments that the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way partnership achieves, and I am constantly inspired by the improvements in the overall wellbeing, economy, safety and health of our community.

Afterschool Summit Gov&MayorWoodThe feature of Promise South Salt Lake that drew the most interest at the summit was the holistic, comprehensive approach that is central to our work. Summit organizers and community leaders alike were anxious to know more about the Promise South Salt Lake Councils and how we have mobilized partners and stakeholders in the areas of health, safety, education, jobs and economy, housing, arts and community, and neighborhoods to guide, inform, and implement our work. We received praise for establishing a Promise South Salt Lake Department within the municipal structure of the city. We also received attention for the framework of communication, planning and organizing through which we have created a citywide system of programs and services.

I am so grateful for the Promise South Salt Lake-United Way of Salt Lake partnership, encompassing our many educational and community partners that supports the learning that occurs during the school day and helps us to achieve targeted academic benchmarks for our youth, such as homework completion, social skills development, and improved behavior. The partnership provides a welcoming place for our youth to learn and play together; provides working parents a safe place for their children to be during the afterschool hours; offers adults and families English, citizenship, and life skills classes; as well as arts, recreation, and other interest-based programs. The face of South Salt Lake is forever changed for the better because of this unique and amazing partnership.

Data Drives Instruction, Strategies, and Motivates Reading Volunteers at South Kearns

nate-salazarby Nate Salazar
South Kearns Elementary Community School Director

Data is a major component of the day to day decision making at South Kearns Elementary, and it is changing the way we do business. Principal, Dr. Julie Lorentzon says “We work really hard but now we need to come up with ways to work smarter.” SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals, and data driven decisions, are becoming the norm and changing our culture

One of the ways data is driving instruction is through pre-test Common Formative Assessments (CFA’s). Teachers have been developing CFA pre-tests on common core standards and are able to assess what a student knows about a concept before the lesson is taught. This process enables the teacher to differentiate or group students in the classroom during the lesson in order to meet student needs. Teachers then give a post-test to assess what students comprehended and determine if any re-teaching needs to take place. Each grade-level team and school leadership meets monthly for data teams. Student data is analyzed at this time, and the progress and development of CFA’s for their classes is discussed. Although initially there is a lot of work, the return of being able to make data driven decisions in the classroom centered on SMART goals and the potential for student growth is well worth it.

DSC_0146Data Teams are also a great opportunity to discuss the importance of other aspects that affect the day to day routine of a classroom. During our last Data Team meeting, kindergarten teachers expressed their struggles with parent involvement. Our discussion led to the planning of a kindergarten parent night, geared towards the importance of reading. This also sparked a conversation about developing a more intentional strategy for parent engagement as a school that includes a “Strong Fathers Strong Families” curriculum that will be rolled out next year.

Data is also playing a role in motivating and showing appreciation for our AmeriCorps ReadToday volunteers. In February, South Kearns hosted an open house for our volunteers where they received test score data for each student they tutor, and lunch on us. Volunteers received the Beginning and Middle of year test scores from the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) exam students take three times a year. This experience was beneficial on many levels for the volunteers. Not only did they feel the appreciation from the school for the work they do, but their work was validated through seeing the progress of the students they work with. Paramount was the understanding volunteers gained about the DIBELS exam, what they are tested on, and how students are placed in levels of proficiency based on their scores. One volunteer mentioned that seeing her student’s data has changed her outlook on the importance of the volunteer work she does, and has influenced the degree to which she pushes and motivates her students to work harder.