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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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Evergreen Public Schools employee honored by state

Melanie Green, who helps fill in the gaps for homeless, poor students, named Washington State Classified School Employee of Year

By , Columbian Education Reporter
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Melanie Green from Evergreen Public Schools, oversees the district&#039;s 10 family and community resource centers. She has been named the state&#039;s Classified School Employee of the Year.
Melanie Green from Evergreen Public Schools, oversees the district's 10 family and community resource centers. She has been named the state's Classified School Employee of the Year. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Melanie Green recalls a day she’d taken blankets to a homeless family with young children living in a tent in a field near the Orchards Fred Meyer. The homeless shelters were full. The Winter Hospitality Overflow shelters weren’t open for the season yet. The family was out of options.

Their camping spot was close to Orchards Elementary so the kids could go to school.

“It was heartbreaking to know they were sleeping out there. When it was pouring rain, I’d lie in bed and think about them,” Green said.

Her compassion is evident in her work as administrator for family involvement at Evergreen Public Schools. A big part of her job is overseeing the district’s 10 family and community resource centers in some of the poorest elementary schools.

Green recently was named the 2016 Washington State Classified School Employee of the Year.

“Melanie is that rare person who sees the big picture and the little picture,” said Randy Dorn, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, during a ceremony in Olympia. “She has the vision to be successful in the long run. But she also has the work ethic that ensures the day-to-day operations run smoothly. And she understands that helping students is a team effort that includes members of the community.”

Anne Johnson, Clark County public health nurse, said Green “understands how trauma can impact childhood and adult health outcomes as well as academic success. She can organize a supportive community response to not only help mitigate the impact of those traumas, but also prevent them.”

Green was hired by the school district in 2012 to set up its first family resource center at Silver Star Elementary, a high-poverty school. She set up a food pantry, clothing closet and school supplies for students in need. Green also worked with faith-based and community partners to provide food to tide students over the weekend, housing resources, parenting information, employment and help navigating the system of community resources.

“What we do is fill in the gaps,” Green said. “Families are having to choose between food and rent. We can provide food with our partners so families can pay rent.”

Since then, Green has set up similar resource centers at nine of the district’s other high-poverty elementary schools. Before school begins next fall, she is charged with setting up four more resource centers, bringing the district’s total to 14.

Under Green’s leadership, the district’s resource centers referred 650 students for social services in the 2014-15 school year. That’s in large part because she has built a network throughout Clark County’s government agencies, nonprofit organizations and faith communities.

“I believe the program would not exist if not for Melanie’s contributions,” Green’s supervisor, Cynthia Christensen, wrote in a letter nominating her for the award. “She built the initial resource center into something the district would get behind and agree to expand. It has been through her direction that the additional resource centers are flourishing.”

Face of homeless

Green wasn’t always aware of how widespread homelessness and poverty are for children in Clark County.

By the Numbers

Evergreen Public Schools, 2015-2016

26,443 students

47.1% qualify for free/reduced school lunch

1,001 students homeless/in transition as of May

10 school-based family community resource centers; 4 to be added in the fall

“I used to think of ‘The Homeless’ as a faceless, distant group of people, kind of like the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I knew it was there, but couldn’t quite make it out,” Green said.

She said that changed a decade ago, when she started working for the district at Pioneer Elementary, and then Orchards Elementary, followed by Silver Star Elementary. At all three of those schools, more than half of the students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

“Over the years, the face of the homeless has taken shape. It became the faces of the kids I passed in the halls, the sweet faces of the kids that hugged me in the morning when they arrived at school. The kids I sent food home with on the weekends, the kids auditioning for the talent show, playing games with me at lunch.”

Green says she can’t pretend those faces don’t exist. She added that homeless students are “resilient, brave and courageous. For many, school is their safe place. A shelter from the storm.”

Now Green supervises coordinators in all 10 resource centers. But much of her work involves speaking to agencies, community groups and faith-based groups to find resources to fill specific needs. On any given day, the trunk of her car is often filled with donated items: shoes, coats, sleeping bags, tents or tarps.

She organizes faith-based coffee meetings to bring churches and other faith-based community groups together to meet the concrete needs of students and their families living in poverty.

Last week, Evergreen Public Schools reached a milestone that’s not celebratory in nature. The district counted its thousandth student as homeless/in transition for the 2015-2016 school year. By January, the number of homeless students already had surpassed the 763 homeless students for the previous school year.

“The current affordable housing crisis has deeply impacted our families,” Green said. “We have families living in tents, cars and doubling up with relatives and friends.”

To Donate to Family & Community Resource Centers

Donate online at the Evergreen School District Foundation website: Select “Donate to ESDF;” then select fund for donation, choose “Family & Community Resource Centers” in the drop-down menu at www.evergreenschooldistrictfoundation.com

At Orchards Elementary, Green stopped to chat with Jennifer Beeks, who coordinates the school’s resource center. The need is great at Orchards, where more than 76 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

“I’m like Mrs. Claus. I give out shoes and food all day long,” said Beeks. “But what Melanie does is in the background. She goes to bat for families.”

Beeks explained that Green “goes to bat for families” by working with various agencies and community groups. She cited a recent example of Green attending multiple meetings to learn about the Vancouver Housing Authority opening their Section 8 waiting list for families identified as homeless.

Beeks told Green about an Orchards Elementary family living in a woman’s garage and sharing a bedroom at night. Green worked with VHA to ensure the family was placed on the waiting list for housing.

If You Go

• What: Evergreen Public Schools’ faith-based coffee meetings allow faith communities to share, learn and discuss how they can support the community, partner with other organizations and help meet the needs of children and families.

When: 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Where: Cascade Park Baptist Church, 1201 S.E. 136th Ave., Vancouver.

• Cost: Free, public event.

“What Melanie did working in the background — she changed this woman’s life. Now this mom and her kids are being considered for VHA housing.”

The last time a school employee in Clark County had been named the state’s Classified School Employee of the Year was in 2013, when Anne Galvas, the homeless liaison for Vancouver Public Schools, received the award from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Columbian Education Reporter