Over the last 20 months we have spent significant time talking to parents and families and looking at student attendance and achievement data to identify struggles and find solutions to support students. We have discovered that for many, getting to school each day has posed a challenge like never before. It’s not just CJUSD. Chronic absenteeism is a perennial challenge at every school across the country and the negative impact on achievement is alarming.
Missing just two school days per month means a child misses 10% of the school year. Over time these gaps will have a compound effect on a child’s academic success. From this the vision of the Student and Family Engagement (S.A.F.E.) team was developed. S.A.F.E. was established to provide a system of supports, aligned with our other tiered interventions, to support students and families in having their child attend school daily without threatening minimally effective consequences.
The mission of S.A.F.E is to support the students, families, and schools of the Center Joint Unified School District. The main objectives include, but are not limited to:
· Promote meaningful, productive engagement between the families and community of CJUSD and the schools.
· Support schools with chronic absenteeism mitigation.
· Be a liaison between the families and community and CJUSD
Once the need was identified and the vision set, the big question was who to take on this role.
After 38 years in education, Steve Jackson was set to enter the life of retirement. He started his educational career as a high school athletic trainer and physical education teacher before coming to CJUSD in 1989. While with Center District he has been a welcoming face with an infectious laugh at all three levels; elementary, middle and high school. At North Country he taught kindergarten, 1st grade and 5th grade. Then Steve moved into administration serving as a Vice Principal at Riles Middle School and Center High before taking on the self-described role of “the very proud Principal” of Dudley Elementary School. As Steve and his wife of 35 years, LoAnne Jackson, also a CJUSD’ educator, planned their transition into retirement, it became very clear Steve had more work left to do here. Steve’s heart for students, families and the Antelope community made him the perfect fit to head up S.A.F.E. And how lucky we are to have him.
In August Steve hit the ground running. He hired two amazingly talented Student and Family Support Assistants, Sara Gonzalez and Mariela Silva. Together, this dynamic trio brings vast experience, keen problem solving skills and a passion for supporting families of Antelope. Everyday S.A.F.E. communicates with families who carry burdens but are doing their very best with the information and resources they have. The S.A.F.E. Team is reaching out, building relationships so together staff and families can identify barriers and work through solutions to ultimately get children to school. Each day brings a new opportunity for the S.A.F.E. team to make meaningful connections with families and help them navigate the unique challenges they face.
When asked what the biggest struggle for students and families is right now, Steve responded, “ The most consistent challenge that we are seeing is families whose buckets are full or overflowing. It’s not necessarily all bad things filling their buckets, it’s just everything. Navigating our current situation and all the factors of day to day life requires many tools and resources. These tools and resources have been in ‘overdrive’ for more than 18 months.”
As a parent of 2 adult children and an educator for more than 29 years, Steve is often asked for parenting advice. His message to families who are struggling with attendance is to “do everything you can to get your child to school, every single day, unless s/he is legitimately ill.” If attendance is an issue Steve encourages families to contact their child’s school and speak truthfully, openly with the hope of a collaborative response. If families are struggling with communication, the S.A.F.E. team can help initiate dialogue in both English and Spanish.
In looking ahead, long range plans for S.A.F.E. include a clearly developed, tiered system of attendance supports. Also part of Steve’s vision is implementing home visits and creating a space where families can carry on safe, effective communication that strengthens the bonds between families and schools and supports the educational growth and success of their children. Along this journey, Steve reminds us of the importance to be flexible enough to recognize when our needs change and to adapt to the factors that our world is throwing all us. In the end, supporting families and schools for the success of children is what we are all striving for.
Connect with S.A.F.E through our district website https://www.centerusd.org/Departments/SAFE/ and Instagram @CENTERUNIFIED_SAFE
Meet Mariela Silva
As a Crisis Intervention Specialist for Birth and Beyond, Mariela was able to understand and support families in a broad perspective in identifying underlying issues that prevented the families to be at their full potential. "I truly understood that each family has different types of stressors that are unique to them, and it's the way we listen to understand that matters."
Over the past 6 years, Mariela has worked in the field of Prevention throughout Sacramento area school districts. As a Youth Prevention Specialist, she created Summits for the youth, workshops, and training for staff, bringing meaningful information to the districts.
As a mom to two amazing kids, Mariela says motherhood puts everything in perspective. "It is a privilege to see life through their lens and they have definitely expanded my knowledge with children and just life overall. I realized with them and every work experience that change is always needed and that when it's uncomfortable it's needed the most."
Mariela shared the biggest struggle for students and families right now is coping with everything in these unprecedented times. "It's like were are doing two years of school wrapped into one." Her advice for students and families is to be gentle with themselves. "The world is already hard enough."
Meet Sara Gonzalez
Sara earned her Bachelor's degree in Sociology. It was through her studies that she learned a lot about inequalities. "When I decided to further my education I enrolled in the Behavioral Science Gender Equity Studies program. I grew my knowledge on educational inequalities whether those involved racial or gender issues." Sara's experience solidified her desire to work within the school environment to try and help children receive a more equitable education.
Previously, Sara volunteered five days a week with the non-profit, City Year. There she learned how important it is for a child to have a consistent adult figure within the school setting who believes in them and their success. "I believe it is essential to believe in the power of young people."
Sara sees the biggest struggle for families right now is navigating through the pandemic. "The pandemic has put a lot of strains on families whether those are economic or emotional." Her advice is to reach out. The S.A.F.E office is here to help and is happy to provide the extra support wherever it is needed.
A New Look for CJUSD
The Center Joint Unified School District is committed to equal opportunity for all individuals in education. School and district programs, activities and services shall be free from unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived sex, race, color, national origin, religion, age, sexual orientation, ancestry, ethnic group identification, gender, physical or mental disability, or on the basis of a person’s association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics, or sexual harassment in any district service, program and/or activity that receives or benefits from state financial assistance. The district shall promote programs, which ensure that unlawful discriminatory practices are eliminated in all school and district activities.