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September 27, 2016

District, schools nationally recognized for community partnerships

Teachers at Lincoln Elementary wanted to visit the homes of some of their students but weren’t sure what to expect and didn’t want to make those students’ families uncomfortable.

That led the school’s Action Team for Partnerships (ATP) last spring to load about a dozen teachers in a van and cars to follow a school bus home to a neighborhood of about 40 students. As the kids got off the bus, the teachers got out, offered popsicles and said they just wanted to get to know them better.

“Kids ran home and grabbed their parents, who invited the teachers into their homes,” said Jacki Moore, Lincoln’s dean of students and ATP co-chairwoman. “Grandparents came out and said they were so happy the teachers wanted to know who they were. One girl made sure she showed her teacher how she could ride her bike without training wheels.”

Creating stronger connections between schools and families is the chief purpose of an ATP. Those at Lincoln, Washington and Vista elementary schools and Park Middle School, along with the district itself, were recently awarded Partnership Awards by the National Network of Partnership Schools for their exemplary work.

“This year, Kennewick broke the mold on school awards and activities,” said Joyce Epstein, the network’s director.

It’s the seventh straight year the district and at least two schools have earned awards from the organization, based at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The groups at Lincoln and Washington Elementary also received $500 cash awards to go toward their efforts in the coming school year. District officials recently presented the awards to each school.

ATP members and district officials said they appreciated the recognition the awards bring and the motivation they create to do more to tie schools and families together.

“These are the people who do the extra of everything in their schools,” said Kelly Bolson, the district’s family and community engagement coordinator.

Seventeen Kennewick schools have ATPs, which are made up of teachers, parents and administrators who aim to make schools more welcoming to families but also bring learning into student homes. Each school’s ATP develops and coordinates activities to meet those goals.

Many of the schools with ATPs have a significant number of students who are English language learners or from low-income families, making it even more important to break down the barriers that may keep their families from being involved in school activities.

To receive a Partnership Award, an ATP must submit a write-up of one activity it conducted to be included in NNPS’ annual publication, Promising Partnership Practices. They also must submit details of another activity it organized as well as an annual plan.

“It’s not that they get an award for one thing, it’s for the breadth of their work over a year,” said Sarah Del Toro, the district’s family and community manager.

Other activities the schools arranged included a Dr. Seuss-themed literacy night at Vista and an open house for the families of older elementary children expected to attend Park to meet that school’s teachers and staff.

District staff orchestrated a speed dating-inspired event where ATP members and community organizations had quick but meaningful conversations about ways they could work together, leading to new partnerships and opportunities. An end-of-year celebration further promoted cooperation and sharing of ideas among the individual ATPs.

The Washington ATP coordinated its own take on the READY! For Kindergarten program offered by the Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia. The courses were offered in Spanish and English and were retooled to teach families how they could help their current kindergartner learn at home.

“To hear the kids the next day use the words we’d used the night before in the class with their parents, it was just incredible,” said kindergarten teacher Chenoa Meagher.

The award winners won’t be resting on their laurels. They are planning to build on their successful activities from the last year while also developing new ones to further encourage relationships between families and schools. District officials also plan to nurture new ATPs at several schools in 2016-17.

“I’m just happy that partnerships are starting to come naturally,” Del Toro said. “There’s a lot of growth potential. Partnerships can grow everywhere.”

Lincoln Elementary School

Recognized activities: Dads and Drills, Follow The Bus


Washington Elementary School

Recognized activities: READY! for Kindergarten Plus, Math For Fun Night


Vista Elementary School

Recognized activities: Dr. Seuss K-1 Literacy Night, Visit A Viking


Park Middle School

Recognized activities: Healthy Teen, New Places...Familiar Faces