Glendale/Mountain View Community Learning Center broadens early childhood educational opportunities

Story and photos by ELLIE COOK

Within the streets of the western neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, Navajo Street stands out because it is not your typical neighborhood block. Sitting in between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School lies the Community Learning Center. A place with a plethora of services for the locals, it also houses the Salt Lake City School District Early Childhood Program (ECP). For decades, the ECP headquarters has sat within the main district building in downtown Salt Lake City. However, moving the office has allowed easier access for families, and assisted in a significant expansion of classrooms and various educational opportunities.

The community center offers various education options for children and their families. More hands-on curriculum has been introduced, which allows the parents and children to learn together.

The program is recognized by Utah State Office of Education as a High-Quality Program. Though the district provides early childhood programs across the Salt Lake Valley, it centers its attention toward Title-1 schools. As time went on, the program became more needed, but that caused overcrowding. Families were being turned away because all classrooms were at the maximum of 18 kids. This left financially strapped parents with few other options. “Families require some type of care/schooling for their child. Preschool programs are much more productive than throwing their child in a daycare,” said Ann Cook, former director of the ECP. So, what could be done to provide for more families?

After much contemplation and planning, in 2012 the  board of education decided to construct a 30,000-square-foot facility to serve the west-side community and house the headquarters for the early childhood program.

Cook and her colleagues helped oversee the construction to assure the center provided a beneficial layout for their classroom and office needs. This included more/larger classrooms, garden beds, larger playgrounds, and appliances such as sinks, toilets and water stations that accommodated 3-4-year-olds. Lastly, it allowed the ECP to create a spacious office area to serve the community. “Moving our office from the main district building allowed us to assist our patrons much easier by making it more accessible for families who live on the west side,” Cook said.

By 2013, the dream center had become a reality. Since then, the ECP has been able to assist many more families and host various programs. The center has occupied multiple pre-kindergarten (half-day and full-day) classrooms, four kindergartens, and a Head Start room for infants.

The center sits between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School. There are various services offered within the center, including a public kitchen, a food pantry and dental office.

With the sudden growth of classrooms needing occupants, the expansion opened the doors for employment as teachers and paraprofessionals were in short supply. “We are a pretty amazing program with wonderful teaching staff. Our teachers are dedicated to supporting the students within our district,” said Teacher Specialist Robyn Johnson. Usually, classes have one teacher and one paraprofessional. Many of them are bilingual, mainly in Spanish and English. The ECP recognizes that it serves a large Hispanic community and therefore needs to ensure everything is communicated correctly, and respectfully. This applies to the classrooms and the main office. Communicating in more than one language is essential in a classroom setting, especially if English is not the child’s first language.

With such success with this center, this leaves room for potential expansions for the ECP. “We would love to provide more opportunities for pre-k. Families have asked for more full-day opportunities and we have been able to add a few more sites to meet their requests. Ideally, we would love funding for universal pre-k to support all families,” Johnson said. Currently, due to financial constraints, families are forced to pay on a sliding scale.

Three community learning centers are now operated at Mountain View/Glendale, Liberty Elementary (formally known as Lincoln Elementary), and Rose Park Elementary. However, the facilities are not as expansive as the one at Glendale/Mountain View. The district has already begun planning for the construction of even more community learning centers. These expansions would hopefully be able to grant more space for the ECP. Until then, Salt Lake City School District early childhood programs remain at other schools in the Salt Lake area. If interested, families may still register per usual.

How to Enroll?

Registration for the 2020-21 school year begins Feb. 26, 2020. Visit the website or call 801-974-8396.

 

Planting a seed: how to grow your own educators in Salt Lake City

Elizabeth Montoya, left, writing a note about an event to Maricela Garcia, who is pictured with her daughter Karen Sanchez Garcia at the Glendale Mountain View Community Learning Center at 1388 Navajo St., Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

The concerto at the Glendale-Mountain View Community is ongoing. It begins with a chorus of students shuffling to class, kissing their parents goodbye at the early morning drop-offs and continues several hours after school finishes. And it wouldn’t be possible without the orchestra of people who ensure the children get the resources they need. 

With severe teacher shortages in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah’s Neighborhood Partners has teamed up with schools around the west side in Salt Lake City to address this issue through the program Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE). 

According to the Grow Your Own Educators 2018-19 annual report, the program provides a framework for parents and community members to teach at Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools are defined by Salt Lake City School District as schools that have a high concentration of low-income students who receive federal funds to assist in meeting students’ academic needs. 

According to the report, GYOE has been working closely with a cohort of 12 paraeducators from Salt Lake City School District during the 2018-19 school year.

The program has paraeducators participate in eight training sessions once a month where they sit down and study topics that correlate with Utah state standards. 

Paraeducators can be found in the halls of Mountain View Elementary School reading with students. They can be found in the Glendale Middle School helping teachers in their classrooms. Or, they can be found at the Community Learning Center (CLC) in the kindergarten rooms. 

Ruth Wells has been a paraeducator for the last five years. Wells’ pathway into education began with a desire to be involved in her children’s lives. “I wanted a way of being home when they were home,” she said. 

“I decided that helping a teacher in a classroom would be the perfect way of still being a part of education,” Wells said, “while still being able to take care of my kids the way I wanted to take care of them.” 

For other paraeducators, like Myrna Jeffries, a teacher who migrated from the Philippines, becoming a paraeducator was a way to continue her career here in the United States. Jeffries was recruited one day while walking around the neighborhood by Elizabeth Montoya.

Jeffries began working for only a few hours a week until she asked to take on more responsibilities at the school. JShe began going to the CLC and into the elementary school to assist teachers and help students. 

The most challenging aspect of the work, Jeffries said, is communicating with the students. According to the Utah Department of Health, one in seven Utah residents speak another language, and one-third speak English less than well. Communication barriers are often present for community members at the CLC, but Jeffries said she works around that by using body language to overcome the barrier. 

The Beehive 

Most people in the community know family-school collaboration specialist Elizabeth Montoya, who has worked at Mountain View Elementary for the last 16 years. On most days, students and parents will see Montoya riding on her large blue tricycle around the Glendale area carrying food or binders in her rear storage basket for a program. Montoya recruits parents or members around the community to come in and help out with activities occurring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Montoya’s specialty is acting as the community’s megaphone. She ensures families know about opportunities and programs that are offered. Her job is connecting parents to resources that help them partake in their children’s education, or advance  their personal and career ambitions. Montoya creates connections with parents and informs them about programs such as GYOE. 

“That’s what we want,” Montoya said. “We want to educate people in the community.”

If Glendale were a hive, Montoya would be the queen, said CLC Program Director Keri Taddie. Montoya has worn many hats throughout the years and created educational opportunities for parents, such as Padres Comprometidos. The program connects Latino parents to these schools by providing a pathway to invest in their child’s academic success and continue their own as well. 

“They’re our children and we should invest in their school too,” Maricela Garcia said in Spanish. She began volunteering at the CLC when her oldest daughter started preschool years ago. 

“I would go help the teacher check homework or have the kids read with me,” Garcia said. 

Although she isn’t currently a paraeducator, she actively engages and participates in the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Language barriers haven’t stopped her from volunteering either. Despite the fact that she didn’t speak English at the time, she had students read to her in English. Garcia then began coming to the community meetings at Mountain View Elementary even before her daughters began attending the school. 

Garcia, who is currently taking a leadership class at the CLC, wants parents to know about resources available for their children. She wants them to feel empowered to learn about their options — whether they have legal status in the United States or not. 

A leading obstacle, Garcia told Voices of Utah, is that Latino parents don’t have adequate information about post-secondary education. She said many of them don’t believe it’s possible for their children to go to university because they don’t have scholarships. 

With programs such as GYOE, there are pathways for parents, young adults and community members to have access to new professional development in their lives. Because many paraeducators come from various backgrounds with education, the initiative grants access to paraeducators to work toward teacher licensure.  

“Many students can keep studying. And there are many opportunities for everyone,” Garcia said. 

The importance of the community background is pivotal to the Glendale community, which has a high concentration of students from diverse backgrounds. An understanding of a student’s culture provides context to support and foster their educational pathways. Because many of the paraeducators come from within the community, it establishes a unique understanding of how the community works. 

“I think that we’re always trying to pull back from that part of the community,” CLC Program Director Keri Taddie said, “and bring those strengths into the school because they have relationships and cultural knowledge and community knowledge that we don’t always have.”  

The Glendale community doesn’t run by itself. It’s an entire ecosystem composed of volunteers, parents, educators and paraeducators who prioritize education and make sure that students are benefitting from the educational system.  

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh thank you for all you do,’” Montoya said as she shook her head. “No. We do it together. I don’t do it myself.” Montoya recalled a saying from her mother about a community of bees and how it takes a whole beehive to make a lot of honey. 

Kyle Lanterman

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ABOUT ME: Kyle Lanterman is currently a student-athlete at the University of Utah enrolled in the College of Humanities and is studying Communication. Some of his research interests include different theories of communication, interpersonal communication and issues with relationships, and journalism. Kyle hails from Long Beach, California where he earned his high school degree at Woodrow Wilson High School. In the city of Long Beach, Kyle spent time as a member of Long Beach Search & Rescue. He enjoys to reading, video games, and various outdoor activities.

Educated and underemployed: refugee student seeks second degree

Story and photos by DEVON ALEXANDER BROWN

Over 60,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah since the 1970s. Prior to the Trump administration, Utah’s designated voluntary agency affiliatesCatholic Community Services and the International Rescue Committee — were resettling roughly 1,200 refugees a year. While agencies do what they can with the resources they have, many refugees find the adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” continues ringing true.

Firas, a refugee from Iraq, has personal testimony of the value of networking. He resettled in Salt Lake in March 2014 by way of the IRC, but he has an uncle whom he lived with after resettling, and who continues to offer emotional and financial support.

Firas, who asked to have his surname withheld, holds a degree in civil engineering from a university in his native Iraq, but was dismayed when he found that using his professional training in the U.S would be difficult. The IRC helped him secure an entry-level position in the customer service sector a few months after arrival, but he felt unmotivated and underutilized by the position because of a desire to continue his profession.

“They [the IRC] will explain that it’s not going to be easy to go back to your job,” Firas said. “This is the general talk about this topic … it’s not going to be easy. Because you’re going to face different stuff, regardless of the language challenge.”

But after some time in Salt Lake, and while living with his uncle, Firas stumbled upon good fortune.

“My uncle is here so we met at the mosque and fortunately I met one of the refugees who came through the same process,” Firas said. “That guy actually was part of the NAAN program [New Academic American Network] … he was asking me what was my major, what did I do in my undergrad. He told me he just finished his master’s at the university which is how I learned ‘OK you actually can go back.’”

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The UNP main office. University Neighborhood Partners was created in 2001 to empower SLC’s westside residents. Many refugees are resettled on the west side of Salt Lake.

The New American Academic Network is a partnership facilitated by University Neighborhood Partners in conjunction with the University of Utah, the University of Utah International Center and the Department of Workforce Services. Because many refugees arrive without the means and proper credentials to work in their respective fields, the goal of the program is to empower refugees and immigrants through access to higher education. In Firas’ case he is working toward a master’s degree in structural design.

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The UNP Partnership Center opened in 2004 and brings together over 30 university partnerships and 20 local nonprofits.

Although he was able to enroll at the U through the network, he was forced to initially enroll as a non-matriculated student because he did not meet university requirements. Firas, like local students attending graduate school, was required to pass the Graduate Record Examination, but because his native language isn’t English he also had to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam. Although challenging, Firas passed both exams on his second attempt. He credits his time in customer service with accelerating his English fluency.

Partnerships like the New American Academic Network are essential for educated refugees looking to move beyond underemployment. The Academy of Hope, a fellow partnership facilitated through the U, offers no-cost certificates in professional management, web design and human resources management.

Claire Taylor, director of the Academy of Hope, says language, though a primary challenge, is but one of many obstacles refugees face on their path to higher education.

“A common challenge is not being able to afford the cost of certificate classes,” Taylor said in an email interview. “Another common challenge is carving out the time in their schedules to be able attend all of the classes.”

A relatively new program, the Academy of Hope saw one student enrolled in 2016, but Taylor says the 2017 Spring semester provided a cohort of students. So far seven participants have been refugees.

Thanks to the New American Academic Network, Firas is able to finish his master’s degree. Yet even with tuition assistance, he says it is not easy to support himself and complete his program and the engineering internship he is currently involved with.

“Fortunately my uncle is here and he supports me until now,” Firas said. “I was living with him at the beginning and he and his family helped me a lot. It’s difficult to have a place in a different culture, different society.”

Firas understands that case workers in the IRC are limited in their reach and ability to assist refugees on an extended individual basis. But he also thinks a more thorough and personalized approach in the early stages of resettlement would be beneficial — especially for refugees who are professionally trained.

Gerald Brown, assistant director of refugee services for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, is in agreement. He says his experience with refugees reflects a need for lengthier case management.

“Every new refugee needs case management for at least two years and I would argue for longer than that for many of them,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “It just to me makes common sense. A case manager helps a refugee kind of come up with a plan to meet their needs, to thrive in this community and then sort of follows the plan, helps them adjust over time, [and] gives them information when they need it.”

Although Firas hasn’t obtained his master’s degree yet, he is close and hopeful. And because of his personal good fortunes, Firas says he makes every effort to inform other refugees about lesser known resources that can help them get back on their professional footing.

“I’m still referring anybody who came as a refugee — who has a graduate or even non-graduate [degree],” Firas said. “Either go into community college or to the university … this is the option you have and how to go back to what you like.”

Going Beyond Test Scores

Story By MICHELLE JAMES

The Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) tests students’ proficiency in various areas and affects both students and teachers in schools throughout Utah, while they prepare for the test and as they process the test’s data.

The test assesses students’ knowledge in three areas; language arts, mathematics and science. Reports released from the data of the test show each grade at each school’s proficiency level.

In August, the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) released SAGE test scores from tests taken in 2014.

The data released tells teachers how proficient their students were in the different subjects, and shows what they need to work on.

Rose Park Elementary, in Salt Lake City school district, is a Title I school that had proficiency ratings of 25 percent in language arts, 34 percent in mathematics and 20 percent in science, according to data from USOE data gateway.

“For many reasons, SAGE scores do not always reflect what kids know or can do,” said Nicole Warren, the principle at Rose Park. She has been principle at Rose Park for five years. Warren said how factors like the students’ attitudes, anxiety and focus all can affect scores.

Thulasi Seshan worked with Rose Park as part of a University of Utah Honors class and during an internship last year. She has worked with classes from third to sixth grade.

“SAGE test scores don’t collect behavioral data or personal history,” said Seshan.

She said how these are the things that affect students’ ability to take the test, and their educational success. The test doesn’t show the context that it was taken in.

“So SAGE testing attempts to isolate the test from the context, but ultimately, you can’t succeed at that, and even if or when you do, your results immediately become meaningless,” said Seshan.

The test affects not only students, but also the teachers.

“It’s a stressful time of year,” said Warren. She said teachers get excited and watch for scores, waiting to see growth and proficiency levels.

At Rose Park, there is also the factor that 53.6 percent of the students are English language learners according to USOE data. Warren explained how English learners have various levels of proficiency with the language, and usually speaking and listening develop faster than reading and writing skills. She said this can lead people to think students have a better understanding of complex vocabulary than they do.

For limited English proficiency students in the school there was a 6.9 percent proficiency rate according to SAGE data from USOE, and for the whole state this rate is 8 percent.

Warren said they help prepare these students by giving them experience with the type of questions beforehand and reinforcing vocabulary used in the test. Some parts of the test are also read out loud.

While the test provides vocabulary challenges for English learner students, the SAGE test brought changes for other students. Utah changed from CRT to SAGE testing in 2013.

“SAGE increases rigor and expectations in all grades,” said Warren.

Students will need time to adjust to the new care standards that come with these new tests. Warren said, for example, kindergarten students will go through school with these new standards and when they get to higher grades will have been learning at that rigor for many years, unlike other students.

Warren said SAGE addresses science and social studies through language arts standards, and focuses on informational and analytic writing.

“The purpose of the new standards is to better prepare students to be college- and career-ready,” Warren said.

In a news release from USOE about 2014’s SAGE test score, Brad Smith, state superintendent of public instruction, said, “Our task now is to keep moving in the right direction until all Utah students are proficient in core subjects.”

Although the SAGE test is new, some people are already considering ending it.

In a Public Education Subcommittee hearing, Draper Senator Howard Stephenson said, “There will be legislation this year to create a task force to look at doing away with the SAGE test entirely.”

The programs that are a part of Rose Park work to help with student success, and in turn, SAGE test scores. Rose Park Elementary has Rose Park Academy, which Warren said is “unique in the district.” It’s an after-school program where the school can make its own budget. The program has around 150 students enrolled, and the students can choose their classes based on what they’re interested in.

Warren said the program is a safe place the students can stay after school with a staff that cares for them.

“It is like a family in many ways,” she said.

Another program is a grandparent program the school has where grandparents come into classrooms and help provide a “consistent adult” for the kids.

Other services the school has for its students are a mental health therapist, a health clinic for both students and members of the community and a full-time counselor. These resources help students miss less school.

Warren said how the school is also working on becoming a trauma-sensitive school to handle behavioral problems and learning concerns. Trauma-sensitive environments can help change negative behavior and help keep a student engaged in learning, she said.

Beyond the test scores are students and schools with many factors in their lives. The education of students goes beyond test score results, and involves many people and steps.

Seshan explained the moment when she can finally help a student make a connection.

“It’s magical,” she said.

University Neighborhood Partners aims to widen access to education for west side residents

University Neighborhood Partners, located on the west side of Salt Lake City, partners with 25 organizations across the Salt Lake Valley to provide access to education and services for residents of that community.

Story and photo by LAURA SCHMITZ

When Sarah Munro began her dissertation at the University of Michigan, she saw a need to bring access to education to minority communities.

After conducting research in Italy and receiving her Ph.D. in anthropology in 2002, she now works as the associate director of University Neighborhood Partners to make that need a reality.

As part of the president’s office at the University of Utah, UNP is “a bridge between the U and nonprofits on the west side,” Munro said.

UNP was launched in 2002 and acts as that bridge by creating partnerships under three main “umbrellas” — youth and education, community leadership and capacity building.

Serving two ZIP codes and seven neighborhoods on the west side of Salt Lake City, UNP currently boasts about 34 partnerships with 25 organizations. Munro admitted that monitoring the success of UNP is difficult, given that much of its work is seen only by the success of its partners.

“We’re always the convener,” Munro said. “We don’t actually do the work — we bring in community organizers to do the work.”

Munro collaborates with UNP staff in choosing organizations with which to partner. She said she and the seven to 10 staff members then maintain partnerships through ample communication and a positive attitude.

“We’re in constant communication,” Munro said of UNP and its partners. “We sit in both worlds and anticipate needs and goals.”

UNP works by building relationships with organizations that work with underrepresented populations, including refugees and undocumented immigrants. Munro said language, transportation and childcare are major hurdles west-side residents face in accessing basic freedoms, including education and healthcare.

“Our policy is we help anyone who comes to the table,” Munro said. “We don’t choose who we help, the organizations do. We simply create the table.”

According to 2010 census data, about 13 percent of Salt Lake City residents are Hispanic — a 78 percent increase from 2000 census data. As demographics continue to change in the United States, Utah and the Salt Lake Valley, Munro said institutions of higher education must adapt to prepare future students for college by widening access.

“A long-term goal is to move students from the west side to succeed, completing high school and coming to the U,” Munro said. “In 20 years, if the U can’t be more effective at this, it will no longer be the flagship university in the state.”

Rosemarie Hunter, director of UNP, was inspired to join hands with UNP after her time as a social worker. She was involved in the U’s College of Social Work for 16 years.

Hunter said education allows individuals to make choices and decisions from a place of knowledge.

“Education is a shared value across all communities and families,” she said. “Education really is power — anytime you can get access to education, you can take better care of yourself and your family.”

Hunter said UNP’s goal is not to try to jump in and “fix” everything, but to create a “mutual shared space” of learning between members of the west-side community and the U, allowing the U to change to support a more diverse population.

“What we look to do is go into existing places to (allow west-side residents) to interface with university life while going about their daily life,” Hunter said. “The U is learning a lot from residents and their cultural backgrounds and life experiences.”

Another UNP staff member, Brizia Ceja, began working for the organization as a freshman at the U as a student intern.

Originally from Mexico, Ceja moved to the U.S. at 13. She then grew up on the west side and still has family living there. She said she is therefore able to relate to that community on a personal level.

“I’m able to identify with most families I work with,” Ceja said. “I come from an immigrant family. I am the first person in my family to go to college.”

Ceja now works as an academic consultant for UNP to facilitate partnerships with middle and high schools. She said schools on the west side are often crowded with one academic adviser serving many.

“We want to start working with them young to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks,” Ceja said. “We want to make sure students have a safe place with (academic) mentors.”

Ceja said she wants children on the west side to view college as not only a possibility, but a natural progression after high school.

“I want them to know (college) is an option,” Ceja said. “Just like high school follows middle school, college follows high school.”

UNP has established partnerships with two elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools on the west side of Salt Lake City. The organization continues to foster relationships with these students to help prepare hundreds for a collegiate experience.