Centennial Read Across America

By |2021-05-27T09:44:58-07:00March 16th, 2020|Categories: Centennial, Early Childhood Success, Volunteer|

Centennial Read Across America

“I really enjoyed volunteering with United Way for Read Across America. I think it’s an amazing program to participate in because it highlights the importance of community and youth engagement, as well as the valuable habit of reading. Overall, it was a great time, and I can’t wait to volunteer again,” exclaimed Jamie Kuehner, volunteer.

Written by: Claudia Chow, Digital Marketing Manager, UWSD

As we approached the third month of our Centennial Celebration, we could not think of a better way to celebrate than by expanding our Read Across America outreach. March 2nd marks the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel, commonly known as Dr. Seuss, the author of many children’s books, and is nationally recognized as Read Across America Day. Each year, companies and individuals from across San Diego County volunteer with United Way of San Diego County (UWSD) to read with local students to promote and celebrate literacy in honor of Dr. Seuss’s Birthday. This year, in conjunction with our Centennial Celebration, UWSD extended the Read Across America celebration to a full week and also led a region-wide book drive to spark the love of reading among children in our community.

UWSD knows the key to early childhood success is literacy. Students who can’t read well by third grade are four times less likely to finish high school on time. In San Diego Unified School District alone, 24% of low-income 4th graders are reading proficient, 34 points lower than their counterparts (58% of non-low income students are proficient). That number jumps to six times less likely to graduate for students who come from low-income neighborhoods.

That’s why this year, in partnership with Warwick’s bookstore, GEICO, Holman Enterprises, San Diego Council on Literacy, and San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU), we expanded our reach to increase our impact across the region.

Individuals were encouraged to donate new children’s books for the cause. Donations sites included Warwick’s in La Jolla, all SDCCU branch locations, UWSD, and several corporate partners’ offices. The accessibility to mulitple donation sites helped us collect over 1,000 new books for our summer initiative Readers in the Heights.

Did you know? During the 30s, Theodor Seuss Geisel published these famous Dr. Seuess books: Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), McElligot’s Pool (1947), Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose (1948), and Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1949). In addition, to Dr. Seuss’s success, here is a look back into UWSD’s history in the 30s. Patriotic San Diegans responded with unprecedented generosity, pushing the War Chest over the $1 million mark in 1943.

Stay tuned as we continue to celebrate our 100th year leading up to our Gala on 10/10/2020.

To learn about the Centennial Celebration, visit uwsd.org/centennial.

Every Student, Every Day Intern Stories: Chelsea Builds Empathy

By |2021-05-28T16:14:08-07:00January 6th, 2020|Categories: Early Childhood Success|

Every Student, Every Day Intern Stories: Chelsea Builds Empathy

ESED Intern Chelsea, Smiling

“I didn’t know what social work in a school setting would look like,” explains Chelsea Guevara, an SDSU senior majoring in Social Work who was chosen to be part of United Way’s Every Student, Every Day cohort. The absence intervention initiative coordinates schools, teachers, and staff with interns who develop relationships with students that are chronically absent and their families to help understand the barriers they face getting to school every day, on time.

“I’m a big-picture, macro person,” Chelsea explains in the small office she occupies at a local elementary school. “I’ve worked on larger projects, like San Diego’s homeless population, but this was a chance to develop the micro side, to build these special relationships with the kids and their parents while watching out for their needs on campus. That’s been an important part of my work, seeing that development.”

One family on her caseload involved two sisters—Izzy (11) and Davina (6), who were chronically absent. The reasons were multiple—which is often the case with children whose home circumstances present challenges to regular attendance. “Sometimes, one of the girls was sick and the mom kept the other home as well. Their transportation was spotty, and it wasn’t clear if the mom was employed.” Adding to those challenges was Izzy’s temper: “Izzy got into fights because people annoyed her, and she hasn’t been taught positive ways to handle her emotions,” Chelsea says. “She’s also protective of her younger sister, so anyone who messes with Davina, will mess with Izzy.” As a result, Izzy was frequently suspended, which compounded the families’ challenges.

The girls’ spotty school attendance had other explanations: according to Izzy, her mother had stage four cancer, which may account for some of the girls’ absences. The other family members’ limitations also played a part. When the girls stayed with her their grandmother, it was hard for them to get to school because grandma did not drive. Visiting her often meant missing school. Meanwhile, the girls’ mom was often with an aunt. “According to my Task Supervisor,” Chelsea adds, “She stayed with her aunt to take care of her.”

To help make the holidays a bit brighter, a $200 gift card was donated to the family. “We chose Izzy and Davina’s family because it would benefit their large family – they have other siblings as well – and they have been working harder towards improving their attendance.”

As her internship continued, Chelsea started noticing that the school staff underestimated poverty’s impact on the families they served. “Everyone seemed to forget that this school may be the only regularity these families have,” she explains. In an effort to help the teachers and staff better understand the families’ struggle with scarcity, she began researching school-based “poverty simulations.”

“I had been to a poverty simulation as an undergrad and found it very impactful. I thought it could help shed some light on the situations that these families deal with, day in and day out.”

The Poverty Simulation included a 48-minute tour, simulating one month, where every 12 minutes represented a week in the life of a family in poverty. Staff and faculty were asked to go through situations similar to those of the families whose children they taught and supported.

“It was very family specific — a mom, a dad, two kids. Dad had lost his job. The family had a set amount of resources and money. How do you live that month? What if the school is shut down, or there’s a holiday?” Such obstacles were put in place to simulate what might happen; participants had to find their way through those restrictions and barriers. “For example, the pawn shop employee only spoke Spanish. What if you don’t speak Spanish? How do you do business? ‘Just speak the language we speak!’ someone shouted. We have a lot of families that don’t speak English here. It could take a while before they got a translator; resources are scarce. How do you communicate?”

At first, Chelsea admits, teachers and faculty didn’t take the simulation seriously. “But by the end, it got very intense. They were yelling at the volunteers. If they were frustrated by this imaginary experience, imagine how these parents must feel.”

Chelsea hoped the experience raised staff consciousness; she understands how it would be easy to get complacent, when you’re working every day with families who have complicated lives. “At the end, we had a 15-minute regroup session where we discussed the experience. I wanted [staff] to realize that even just five minutes of interaction with students or their families, asking ‘How’s your week going? What can I do to support you?’ could go a long way to help them feel supported and seen.”

United Way Impact Manager Nina Ghatan, Chelsea’s supervisor, mentions another convert to the cause: “What’s amazing about Chelsea is that she was able to get buy-in from the principal. He actually devoted a faculty meeting to this project, which says a lot, considering he’s only allotted two meetings a semester, so he put a lot of trust in her.”

Chelsea smiles. “He didn’t expect to be part of the simulation, but I told him, ‘Nope, you’re part of it!’ “ She also sweetened the deal by lowering the cost. “I knew [official poverty simulations for schools] cost money—like, $2,000. My homemade version looked just the same; all the information was just as impactful.”

“Chelsea continued juggling her caseload,” Nina continued, “organized this simulation, met with me weekly… she also has a job and is active in her sorority!”

“It mattered to me,” Chelsea concludes, shrugging. “And now that I know how critical absenteeism is, I won’t let it fall by the wayside. Maybe I’ll end up working on it in a different capacity. This opportunity—working hands-on with the children—was so invaluable to me.”

Chelsea graduated in May 2019 from SDSU’s Department of Social Work. Currently, she works for a company dedicated to empowering and supporting college women. Her hope is to enter the world of nonprofit in the future.

UWSD’s Every Student, Every Day initiative offers a set of interventions to increase school attendance and close the achievement gap by facilitating partnerships between schools, universities, community providers, families, and students. United Way collaborates closely with elementary schools in the San Diego region to improve outcomes for local children and their families. Every Student, Every Day has consistently produced positive results for children and families, including increased attendance for participating students.

Summer Reading Reaches New Heights

By |2021-05-27T09:59:01-07:00October 23rd, 2019|Categories: Early Childhood Success|

Summer Reading Reaches New Heights

Woman stands with child on playground

Fifty-six books over four weeks. Jackson Ellis may have set a record at last summer’s Readers in the Heights (RITH), a literacy initiative, coordinated by United Way of San Diego County, that brings summer enrichment opportunities to elementary students in City Heights.

“It was shocking to us, too,” said his mother, Ann, “but he’s competitive; he was given a challenge.”

That challenge was collecting “book bucks”— a model used in collaboration with Traveling Stories, a partner program that helps kids fall in love with reading by offering incentives. The more books a student reads, the more “bucks” they earn; the more bucks they earn, the better the prize. By summer’s end, book bucks bring bonanzas from board games to basketballs. “Jackson was reading at home every night so he could get those book bucks!”

Readers in the Heights keeps students reading and learning all summer long, a time when many students regress because they’re out of school. Summer learning loss—or summer slide — puts students behind in reading achievement, which impacts their overall school success.

Jackson struggled in second and third grade, his mom said, “but now he’s become a more confident reader. Smoother, with better comprehension.” And he’s developed some bookish habits. “When we were getting ready for vacation, he packed books in case he had time. He also wrote in his journal during vacation.”

Summer 2019 was RITH’s fourth year of operation. United Way plans to use the motivational techniques learned here to help literacy in other parts of the county soon.

Meanwhile, Ann is grateful for the support it offers and has already signed up Jackson’s younger sister for the summer program. “You have to start kids early. I encourage parents to take advantage of these opportunities, like Readers in the Heights. It really does take a village — you can’t do it by yourself.”

What did the tall fifth grader get when he cashed in his book bucks, anyway? Jackson grins. “A basketball!”

Every Student, Every Day Intern Stories: Haley

By |2021-05-27T09:51:00-07:00June 4th, 2019|Categories: Early Childhood Success|

Every Student Every Day Intern: Haley Discusses Attendance Fundamentals

ESED Intern Haley

Building Blocks to Everyday Attendance

Second-grader Samuel didn’t turn in his homework a single day. Not once. Chronically absent, he struggled to get to school on time, and social work intern Haley Smith needed to find out why.

“He used to have his head down in class. Now he loves school, and he turns in his homework every day, and he’s at 100 percent,” Haley reports. “He holds his head up high.”

How does she account for the change? She credits United Way’s attendance intervention initiative, Every Student, Every Day,

“We figured out his goals, what he wants to do with his life. Lately, he wants to move to New York and become a police officer.”

New York?

“I know!” she laughs. “He must have seen it on television. Whatever the reason, he’s feeling a sense of pride—what it’s like to be here every day, to do his homework. If he keeps it up, we’ll draw a picture together on big paper. That’s one of his incentives!”

Other kids on Haley’s caseload at Franklin Elementary in City Heights are also keen on managing their futures, no doubt due to her “Kiddo Aptitude Test,” an interest survey that gives students a chance to try on a variety of careers by reading a check list of activities central to that job.

“Haley built on that entrepreneurial spirit, connecting him to his interests. She encouraged him to … believe that many things were possible.”

Habitat for Humanity has a checklist of typical tasks as well as an FAQ for the larger picture. It also encourages them to tally their check marks to determine their top choices.

Haley’s supervisor (United Way’s Impact Manager, Camille Novello, MSW, ASW) mentions another student on Haley’s caseload, Angel, who spends a lot of time in Mexico. He initially aspired to run his own chiclet cart.

“Haley did a great job building on that entrepreneurial spirit, connecting Angel to his interests. Maybe you’ll be a business owner, she asked him. What would you need? She didn’t denigrate his original idea; she just encouraged him to make it bigger and better. To believe that many things were possible.”

At last check, Angel wanted to become a botanist.

habitat for humanity checklist

The Role Parents Play in Everyday Attendance

When asked about the critical role the parents play in the everyday attendance challenge, Haley explains the many factors that conspire to challenge low-income parents when it comes to their children’s absence.

“I think it’s important that you show parents you understand, that you aren’t just being critical—‘Your kid was absent again….’

“There’s a hierarchy of needs. The parents’ top priority might be work, making sure there’s food on the table. Of course, education is important…coming to school on time is important, but it can fall down [the list] when you’re dealing with so many big life issues.

When the student is chronically absent, better to approach the parents as if they are members of the team: “How can we work together? How can we get this streamlined for you? What are the barriers?”

“I have good relationships with the parents of my students,” she adds. “They pick up my calls, they’re on board.”

She encourages the parents as well as the students. “I want them to understand that education does need to be a priority…that I understand it’s hard to get them here every day on time, but it’s what’s necessary to give the child the education they deserve.”

Making Progress

In March, Haley was already seeing the change. “Back in January, I would ask Samuel if his parents checked on his homework. Did they help him pack it? Why was it always missing? It turns out they used to never check for homework; it wasn’t on their radar.”

But now it is.

“I heard they listen to rock music and do homework as a family. They all sit together, including his two younger siblings.”

As the school year ended, a quick check-in reveals promising news: “Both students have significantly improved in their attendance this year as compared to last year.”

Officer Samuel and Dr. Angel hover a bit closer now.

United Way’s Every Student, Every Day absence-intervention initiative is just one example of our work: aligning partners (schools, teachers, principals, parents) around a shared goal (every day attendance), leveraging partner expertise with rigorous data and best practices to find the most successful ways to transform chronic absence into everyday attendance for all San Diego students!

Every Student, Every Day Intern Stories: Sadia

By |2021-05-27T09:45:21-07:00April 23rd, 2019|Categories: Early Childhood Success, Volunteer|

Every Student Every Day Intern Stories: Sadia

ESED intern

One Recipe for Student Success: A Little Help from Everybody

A former refugee from Somalia, Sadia Said, who grew up in Libya then moved to Egypt and eventually emigrated to America, knows it takes a little help from a lot of people to succeed in this country. She understands the power of people helping people. So when she started at San Diego State University, she knew she didn’t want to teach children, she wanted to help them.

“I thought social work was only about resettlement. Later I realized you could work at a school, in a hospital… Everybody needs help.” When she learned about United Way’s Every Student, Every Day absence-intervention initiative—where interns work to understand issues facing students and their families, with support from the school site, clinical supervision, and weekly coaching—it seemed like a perfect fit. “I’m a childcare provider with a daycare center in my home, so I already work with kids. I liked that the program involves parents and their children and their teachers and the school staff … a little bit of everything.”

That “little bit of everything” would play a key role as her new internship at Central Elementary in City Heights unfolded.

“I had a first-grader on my caseload, Delia, who was, hesitant to tell me what was going on at the beginning. She kept asking me if I was a social worker-I found out she’d had a negative experience with one. As we continued to see each other — it took five meetings before I found out what was really going on in her house — she started opening up, telling me things.” As it turns out, Delia was witnessing troubling incidents that made her afraid to go home. “I wasn’t sure what to report or what to say,” Sadia says.

Later, she consulted with her supervisor, United Way’s Impact Manager Nina Ghatan, MSW. Together, they decided to report it.

When the front desk told Sadia that Delia’s mother was there to pick up her child, she was conflicted. “We weren’t sure if we should send Delia home with her.” Luckily, Central Elementary Principal Liz Duvall intervened to talk with the parent—who only spoke Spanish—acting as a liaison to explain “mandated reporting,” a policy that dictates certain professions (teachers and principals) are legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to authorities.

“Her brother and father were fighting in front of her.”

“I thought [the mother] wouldn’t be very helpful, but she was supportive of the idea,” Sadia says. “She wanted what was best for her daughter.” Delia was watching her Dad and a brother fighting. Mom was aware but didn’t know how to fix it or where to go. “She didn’t realize how much it had impacted her daughter, the youngest in the family. When we met with the mother, she told us she was looking for a therapist for the entire family. Principal Duvall made a referral to for crisis intervention and individual, family, and group therapy so the family could get help.”

“Everyone at school was so helpful,” Sadia continues. “But it was scary.”

With logistic support from the school site, plus clinical supervision and weekly coaching, Sadia found her way with Delia, while United Way’s Ghatan found understanding with Delia’s mother.

“Originally we had a view based on what Delia was telling Sadia, including that the mother had been in prison. But that wasn’t the whole story. She was there because of immigration. We became even more empathetic.”

As more layers were uncovered, more preventions were put in place to protect Delia. Now, the school social worker knows Delia’s situation and helps out when Sadia isn’t available.

“Sadia’s growth was remarkable to witness,” her supervisor adds. “She grew from a nervous young woman an insightful investigator.”

UWSD’s absence intervention initiative, Every Student, Every Day, offers a set of interventions to increase school attendance using data and our partners’ expertise to put impactful solutions into action. The initiative has consistently produced positive results for children and families, including increased attendance for participating students. This is another example of how United Way aligns partners, collaborating closely with schools, teachers, parents and staff, to leverage the resources and best practices that can help transform the lives of children, young adults and families. 

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