Contact: Mary Campbell
Will our region’s children be ready to meet the challenges that life will offer them?
That is the question that a group of concerned citizens tackled in the first region-wide study facilitated by Community Council. Knowing that educational attainment is one way to measure readiness, the committee framed its work with the question, “How can the region best coordinate its educational, mental health and housing stability services to improve the educational attainment of its children?”
Study Committee Chair Roger Bairstow, Walla Walla, facilitated the study process. As many as 70 concerned citizens from the region between Burbank and Dayton and from the Snake River to Milton-Freewater participated in 24 weekly meetings between November 2008 and May 2009.
“I have been amazed at the quality and quantity of time our region's citizens have contributed to this very worthy cause,” said Bairstow.“Those involved have further increased my belief that this process works and that together we really can address problems in our region that all too often appear to be too large for any one organization or individual to overcome.
“Education is so very critical to our children's and our community's future, and through this process we have learned that factors occurring outside the classroom - in our community - have dramatic effects on student achievement. I am confident that, once implemented, these recommendations will be valuable investments in our region for years to come.”
Thirty-five speakers, representing the region’s schools, governmental agencies, nonprofit programs and service users presented information related to: early learning; in-school counseling; alternative high school programs; public and private mental health resources; housing, shelters and homelessness; truancy, drop-out prevention, and the juvenile justice system; teen pregnancy support; and parenting.
From information offered by the speakers and supplemental resource materials, the group concluded there are many effective local resources. The committee also learned that children face significant barriers pertaining to the basic needs of safety, health, and nurturing.
Highlights of the committee’s conclusions and recommendations follow:
- Early learning experiences (birth to 5 years) are essential for success in school and in life. Early learning programs are limited in number and accessibility, and quality child care is inadequate to meet local needs.
Recommendation: Make quality early learning opportunities available for all children.
- School performance is tied to attendance. If students stay in school, they usually graduate.
- Learning environments outside of school and positive relationships between students and adults are essential to building students’ sense of well-being and motivating school attendance.
Recommendation: Increase school attendance by prioritizing programs which result in consistent attendance; by developing and promoting learning environments outside of school and opportunities that encourage positive relationships between students and adults in the community; and by providing opportunities for all children to participate in extracurricular activities.
- Parents’ effectiveness as life models affects their child’s development and success in life. More parenting skills education is needed in the region.
Recommendation: Enhance effective parenting through parenting skills classes and increased awareness of parenting resources, including programs for teen mothers and teen fathers.
Recommendation: Support public schools’ efforts to help residents acquire English and Spanish language skills. Expand English as a Second Language programs to reduce parents’ dependence on their children as translators, to enhance the parents’ ability to access needed resources and to enable their participation with the educational system.
- Current sex education programs in the public schools are not adequate to address the real needs emerging from youth sexual activity.
Recommendation: Include age-appropriate, comprehensive reproductive health education as part of public schools’ basic curriculum.
- Lack of communication and coordination among social service agencies, schools and the region’s citizens is a weakness.
- Local mental health resources are not adequate to meet local needs. Shortages of early intervention services, appropriate treatment and access to services affect the academic performance of student with mental health problems.
Recommendation: Improve the availability of and access to mental health services in schools and communities.
Recommendation: Emphasize prevention as the first step toward mental health treatment.
- Adverse childhood experiences affect brain development, learning ability and successful social interactions.
Recommendation: Extend the use of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) mode for understanding the effects of childhood trauma.
- More local foster homes that take children and teenagers are needed. Those that currently exist are always occupied.
Recommendation: Increase the capacity of the region’s foster care system to accept children and teens.
- Lack of quality, affordable housing is a barrier to maintaining family stability, affecting a child’s ability to learn.
Recommendation: Coordinate efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing.
A printed report that more fully details the findings, conclusions and recommendations may be requested from the Community Council, 509-540-6720, or firstname.lastname@example.org. The report and summaries of each of the committee sessions will also soon be available at Community Council’s website, www.wallawallavitalsigns.org.
A task force of interested citizens is being formed to help promote the implementation of the recommendations. This citizen-driven effort, facilitated by Community Council, will involve individuals and programs from throughout the region. All interested in being part of the implementation effort are encouraged to call Community Council’s Executive Director, Julie Reese, 509-540-6720.
* * *
Each year a topic of concern to the region will be selected for a new study. Information gathering and recommendation development will follow the same format—interested citizens learning together about the topic in a neutral setting. Well-rounded and factual information then becomes the basis for developing conclusions and recommendations for action.
The 2009-10 cycle has begun. A topic for this year’s study will be announced in July. The public is encouraged to be part of the study which will start this Fall.