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Future filled with promise By Kathryn Lembo | Sat, Sep 14 2013 12:00 PM

Schools can take a back seat for students living in struggling communities.

Financial struggles, single family homes and language barriers can impact their motivation and ability to learn. These are the kind of stressors for the children of Castle Park neighborhood in the city of Chula Vista—an area that also contains some of the most under-performing schools in the district. But the Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPromise) with its strong collaboration of partners plan to turn these statistics around to make children, their safety, health and education number one.

CVPromise is one of seven awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood Grant that supports academic excellence and college bound aspirations. Coordinated by South Bay Community Services, the impressive comprehensive plan brings together a collaboration of partners—28 local government agencies, non profits organization and businesses—to support the neighborhood and its five schools: Castle Park Elementary, Castle Park Middle, Castle Park High School, Hilltop Middle and Hilltop High School.

More than half of the students in CVPromise receive free or reduced lunch and are English language learners and about 67% their parents did not graduate from high school. In this neighborhood  steps to higher education may seem foreign or unattainable, but CVPromise partners have developed an implementation plan for a seamless continuum of cradle-to-career solutions that will provide all children with high expectations for success, steady and nurturing relationships throughout the pipeline, and a clear and viable pathway to college and career success.

In just a few shorts months, programs are well underway providing a much need boost to ongoing efforts in schools and in the neighborhood. At Castle Park Elementary, a new preschool with specialized curriculum for English Language Learners is providing 40 students with free quality early learning opportunities. Castle Park Elementary’s garden, once brown and empty, is now thriving and a community hub for intergenerational reading and garden events. This past summer pre-kindergartners and fourth and fifth grade students took part in free school camps to prepare them socially, emotionally and academically for the new school year. At the middle and high schools, after school tutoring, academic advocates, art and science programs and access to technology are just some of the programs being implemented.

Each school will have its own parent center and literacy cafe - a remodeled comfortable place on school campus where parents and students can access resources, computers or utilized for classes or group activities. Families in the area are receiving computers and instruction on how to use.

Universidad de Padres provides free workshops for parents with children under three years old. Promotoras, bilingual trained parents from the neighborhood, are at hand to assist families and students connect with the right programs.
Families are already feeling a change. For Senaida Wright, 36, the first few weeks of school were much different than in past years. Wright has seven children ages 15 to six attending CVPromise schools and participating in various programs being offered.

“This was the first time my 11 year old son was excited about the first day of school,” said Wright, whose son entered fifth grade and has struggled with anger issues and learning challenges. “My older kids have actually been doing homework and reading and I’m getting support for my other kids and hopefully I can get back to work too.”
On Friday, Castle Park neighborhood welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and senior staff at the Department of Education who selected CVPromise as the final destination for this year’s Department of Education back-to-school bus tour-”Strong Start, Bright Future”.

Duncan held a town hall with local school officials, education stakeholders and community leaders on Promise Neighborhoods followed by education break out sessions hosted by leaders from each of the White House Initiatives. The work of CVPromise has just begun: to transform a community through education. For more information on vast services being offered, please visit CVPromise.org or call 619-420-3620.

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