School district gives families a new resource

Vancouver schools' centers offer variety of services

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter




Previously: Vancouver Public Schools opened its first resource center in 2001 at Fruit Valley Elementary.

What’s new: Centers opened this year at Lincoln, Minnehaha and Hazel Dell elementaries.

What’s next: Evergreen Public Schools will open its first resource center in 2013 at Silver Star Elementary.

It was a Tuesday, so Jennifer Hernandez had no problem getting her daughter up and off to school at Harney Elementary.

Tuesdays are when 6-year-old Tia Vasquez looks forward to playing soccer after school.

"She knows that on Tuesdays, she needs her soccer stuff and she's ready for school," Hernandez said. "Tuesdays are my best mornings."

Soccer is one of the after-school activities offered through Harney Elementary's family and community resource center.

"Our families didn't see opportunities for their kids to use their energy" after school, said Sandra Zavala-Ortega, resource center coordinator at Harney. Zavala-Ortega said she worked with the Harney parent-teacher group to address that need.

The centers are at 11 of the Vancouver school district's 32 campuses. They are places where families can access academic and early-learning programs, health and social services, youth activities and some resources for parents.

This year, new centers opened at Lincoln, Minnehaha and Hazel Dell elementary schools.

"The reason we expanded was the downturn in the economy," said Jennifer Blechschmidt, district coordinator of the resource center program. At the 11 schools with resource centers, the average of students in the free and reduced-price lunch program is about 74 percent.

There are centers at nine elementary schools (Eleanor Roosevelt, Fruit Valley, Harney, Hazel Dell, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Minnehaha, Peter S. Ogden and Washington) and two middle schools (Discovery and McLoughlin).

Those 11 schools serve 5,400 students -- almost a quarter of the district's enrollment of 22,400. While it's designed to benefit families, the schools get something out of the program as well, Blechschmidt said.

"It has benefitted academic performance," she said. "At some schools, we've seen gains in yearly achievement results."

While the concept has been around since Fruit Valley opened its resource center in 2001, Harney was free to chart its own path when it opened its center in the fall of 2011.

"Different schools have different resource centers, depending on what parents want," said Zavala-Ortega, coordinator at Harney.

The after-school activities program -- which includes a chess club -- was a popular choice, she said.

"I think it's great," said Hilda Ngauamo as she watched daughter Daisy Ngauamo, 6, scamper around the soccer field recently. "Every Tuesday, she looks forward to this."

"There are a lot of other activities that give kids something to do," Ngauamo said, including reading programs for her younger children.

Principal Lucy Estrada came to Harney from Sarah J. Anderson Elementary, which doesn't have a resource center.

"I see a difference in the level of family support we can offer," Estrada said. "We can help families connect with other agencies."

Tom Nadal, Evergreen Public Schools director of elementary education, said his district will open its first resource center in early 2013 at Silver Star Elementary School.

"It will serve Silver Star families and also have services available for families in our other north-end schools," Nadal said.

While there are no formal plans to expand the Evergreen program, another center or two could follow in the next couple of years.

Vancouver's 11-school resource center system costs about $750,000 annually, said Blechschmidt, the district coordinator.

"Funding the site coordinator is the largest cost," she said, but grants and partnerships mean the district pays just a fraction of the total.

"It's now a 1-to-5 ratio," she said.

Educational Service District 112, Foundation for Vancouver Schools, and Educational Opportunities for Children and Families are among the partners that pay most of the tab.

Clark County Public Health, the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington, Share and several faith-based organizations have been very supportive partners, Blechschmidt said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558;;