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Pilot program designed to engage parents with Sunnyside schools making progress

“It’s good news,” said Sunnyside Transformation Yakima Valley Director Roberto Matus of a pilot program between his organization and the Sunnyside School District.

Although the program has had to change its parameters slightly due to a tragic death, Matus said the pilot has already met many of its goals and is on track.

The program was approved by the school board in January this year, providing up to $42,000 over two years to study ways to effectively engage working parents with schools. At Thursday night’s meeting, Matus updated the school board on the progress of the pilot.

Originally, the pilot program would have involved a single farm, impacting the children of about 60 families. However, due to the death of Jerry Haak, owner of that farm, the project has been spread to six farms and more families.

Sunnyside Schools Family Engagement Director Lorenzo Garza said the entire project was slowed down after Haak’s death, but the extra time has allowed the pilot to be tweaked to work better.

Garza noted that although the program is still only in the first of five planned phases, data that will help the district has already been collected.

“We’ve found that a lot of parents did not know how to contact the school, or who to talk to once they did,” said Garza. “We also found the students might know what programs are available, such as the tech center, but the parents don’t understand what it’s for.”

Matus gave a slide show presentation that explained the goals of the program. He said there have been some breakthroughs and some setbacks, but overall the process appears to be working.

Matus said engaging businesses is key, as some employers have complained about school meetings being held during working hours.

“The schools need to communicate with employers,” he said. “And the employers need to understand the goals of the schools. You must be mindful of each other’s needs.”

Matus said his group has worked with employers to present the pilot program to workers for an hour during their workday. Having employers provide time for the program has led to a different audience. He noted that fathers often don’t pay much attention to their children’s schooling.

“But we had a captive audience,” he said. “We asked them ‘do you know what grade your child is in?’ There was a lot of scratching of heads.”

He invited the board members to visit worksites at the six farms involved in the pilot and watch a presentation. He said some of the school principals have already visited, and it has improved communication at all levels.

If the pilot program is successful, the goal is to implement it throughout the district starting in September of 2015. The Sunnyside School Board approved the start of Phase II of the project, which moves from data collection to more presentations and workshops.

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