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. 

Sorenson Unity, Multicultural centers are a good value

by NATHANIEL BINGAMAN

Come see the center

Once upon a time, children could look down, find two quarters on the ground and use them for a full day of fun. Some would say those days are gone. With an economy spiraling downward and unemployment skyrocketing, having fun with just 50 cents is a thing of the past. Or is it?

The Sorenson Unity Center andthe Multicultural Center, at the corner of 900 West and California Avenue, offer activities for children at prices that have probably not been seen in ages. The centers serve the community of Glendale, which is located on the west side of Salt Lake City.

“Glendale is a low income community. I love being able to give back to the kids in this area,” said Kaleigh Clark, who works in the aquatic center.

The centers are community-based facility that are owned by Salt Lake City and provide programs and services to the residents of the community.

Although they are based in the Glendale area, the community they serve is much bigger. Anyone can go to the centers and pay the same price as a local resident.

Seniors pay only 50 cents Monday through Friday mornings and a dollar during the afternoons. Children under the age of 17 can swim for 50 cents on Fridays and on the other days of the week it is only a $1.50.

“The prices are low, but families can also apply for a scholarship program,” Clark said. The scholarships are offered to children whose families qualify for government assistance, such as Medicare and food stamps. The scholarships allow the kids to participate in as many programs as they want for only $10.

In addition to low cost swimming, people can participate in basketball, soccer, snowshoeing, T-ball, softball and the list goes on and on.

“My kids love it. They have so much fun and it costs so little,” said Claudia Corona, whose children have participated in many different activities offered at the centers.

Corona used to take her kids to soccer practice there. At the time she was in need of work. She noticed they had a job opening. Within a couple weeks she was happily greeting patrons at the front desk. You will probably see her warm smile on your next visit.

“I love my job, I am able to see families come in every day smiling and having a good time,” Corona said. “It is fun seeing mothers and daughters come in to take belly dancing classes together.” Yes, for $10 you can learn to belly dance.

The Corona family spends a lot of time at the centers. Her daughter began working there as a volunteer. “She had a great time playing with the kids. She started as being a referee for youth soccer. Now she works here part time.”

Volunteers are able to participate in various sports programs as youth coaches and referees. “We love our volunteers. They do a great job with the kids,” Corona said.

Coaches at the center are asked to take a test to determine their commitment to the children. They are told to focus on sportsmanship, playing as a team and having a good time. These are not the coaches who are going to yell at your child over mistakes they make on the playing field. It’s all about having fun and learning a little in the process.

For you working parents who need a place for your child to stay out of trouble, the Sorenson Unity Center offers after-school programs for kids 5 to 13. The kids in the program take field trips, swim at the pool, hike, do arts and crafts projects and get help with homework. The center also gives the kids a safe place to learn in a connected and safe environment. These children also learn how to give back to their community.

One program allows the children in the after-school program to be involved in a pen pal program. Children at the center write to seniors who are living at the Sunday Anderson Senior Center. “The kids here are so sweet and smart. They love writing and getting the letters,” said Clarissa Warath, a lifeguard at the center.

Many thought the good old days were gone. But at the centers you can take a step back in time. Things are inexpensive and good values are being taught around every corner.

Sorenson Unity Center a product of collaborations

Story and photo by DEREK SIDDOWAY

Community gardens, dental services, recreation center and art gallery; the Sorenson Unity Center offers a plethora of activities for residents of the Glendale and Poplar Grave neighborhoods, all rolled into one convenient package.

Built in 2008, the Sorenson Unity Center (formerly the Sorenson Multicultural Center) is the result of combined labors between Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County and various nonprofit organizations. Located at 900 W. 1383 South, the center houses a combination of services — computer labs, fitness facilities and child care, to name a few — that community members can take advantage of.

“The great thing about the unity center is we have so many diverse programs and services,” said Director Nichol Bourdeaux, 36. “It really is a one-stop show for the community members of the Glendale area.” Past examples of the center’s “diverse programs and services” include Planned Parenthood, computer literacy classes, food preservation and canning, relationship and substance abuse workshops and film screenings.

This gallery, located at the southern entrance of the Sorenson Unity Center, features "Reflections" by Alyssa Chamber. It showcases a wide array of human emotion.

Bourdeaux says the community has “embraced” the center and uses it for various public and private functions. However, this “one-stop show” serves more than a stage for community activities. Numerous venues are available for long and short-term rent as well, including conference rooms, theatres and classrooms. The Sorenson Unity Center also allows community members to exhibit their art in two galleries positioned at the south and east entrances. Past exhibits include “Reflections,” an exhibit by community member Alyssa Chamber that explores the spectrum of emotion people experience throughout life’s trials.

“We are really working as a collaboration: nonprofit, community agencies and government agencies providing services to the community. It’s not one entity providing something,” Bourdeaux said. “Because of the variety of programming and services it’s a natural collaboration between all the different cultures; this is their community center.”

Examples include Horizonte, an alternative school that teaches adults English as a second language and basic education classes. KUED’s Ready To Learn Workshop spans a six-month period and covers a variety of parenting classes on topics ranging from child development to anti-bullying and nutrition. Salt Lake Donated Dental operates in the southeastern corner of the center and provides discounted or free dental hygiene services.

Patrons who take advantage of the center’s offerings don’t need to make special arrangements if they have children. Parents can place their children in the drop-off Child Care Center while exercising or attending classes. Children ages 8 weeks through 8 years can be placed in childcare Monday through Friday for as low as $1.50 per hour.

The Computer Clubhouse, a computer lab specifically for children ages 10 and up, allows neighborhood youth to “use technology creatively to acquire the tools, problem solving skills and confidence to lead successful lives,” according to the Sorenson Unity Center’s website. In addition to open access, children can attend scheduled classes such as Lego robotics, engineering, graphic design and film design.

The Sorenson Unity Center houses a variety of nonprofit organizations selected through its Programming Partnership.

Not just any program is admitted, however. In order to ensure the quality of nonprofit organizations, the Sorenson Unity Center developed a Programming Partnership in 2011. Programs must follow the stipulated guidelines in order to use the center. Requirements include proper food and business permits, identifying the Sorenson Unity Center as a partner and adherence to scheduled meeting times. Programs wishing to continue their service at the end of the year-long agreement must be re-approved by the center.

“We are working with 25 local nonprofit organizations that want to provide services to the community for free,” Angela Romero said. Romero is the program coordinator at the Sorenson Unity Center and is responsible for selecting partner organizations.

“Through the programming partnership we have specific guidelines to match what we do here,” she said.

While Romero admits fine tuning may be necessary, she sees the partnership as a vital part in the collaboration between the Sorenson Unity Center and outside organizations.

“Our biggest goal is to make sure everyone in the Salt Lake community is aware of the services we provide,” Romero said. “This place is for them.”