Urban Promise Academy thinks big when it comes to fueling the aspirations of its students and providing extraordinary role models.
Nine UPA students recently earned medals in a Bay Area science, technology, engineering and math competition, including three girls who devised a prosthetic arm. The school website oozes with pride (and exclamation points!!!) over the range of learning activities in play, from dissecting to fetal pigs to fostering “mathletes” to hosting Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her defense of the rights of indigenous people.
Given all this, it may come as no surprise that UPA also thinks big when it comes to wellness. In 2010, school staff set their sights on expanding healthy eating and physical activity, and on strengthening factors shown to have a positive influence on students’ emotional health. They concluded quickly that they could not succeed without the full and active involvement of parents.
Urban Promise Academy is not without its challenges. Of the school’s 315 students, 100% qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Many parents work two jobs or more. And many prefer to communicate primarily in Spanish, while many of the teachers speak only English.
These factors place Urban Promise Academy in a high needs category within a district that is under-resourced. It would be easy to accept that these obstacles impede the creation of a cohesive school community.
Undaunted, Urban Promise Academy staff devised a series of strategies to fuel parent involvement and added a healthy dose of creativity. The school Wellness Team created a welcoming Family Resource Center where parents and staff can interact, in part so that parents can provide ideas and input and know that they are heard. And, they hired Glendy Cordero, a parent who had been an avid and effective volunteer for six years, to lead the parent engagement effort.
With Cordero on board full-time, the school set to hiring and training parents to supervise activity time in the gym, keep the garden humming, spearhead safety patrol and educate students and parents alike about healthy eating.
School staff created nutrition and fitness classes for parents. And the Family Resource Center became a well of resources – including adult literacy classes and parenting support – available to parents when and where they need them.
Assistant Principle Dennis Guikema described the new Family Resource Center to a reporter from the nonprofit news source Oakland Local last year.
“It’s a community hub, more than just a place for academic support,” explained Guikema. “It’s a lifeline for families and often the first stop for help with food, immigration, counseling and mental health.”
Promoting open communication and parent engagement has paid off. Attendance rates have increased, office referrals have decreased and student test scores place the school among the highest achievers in the entire district.
“The wellness work has been transformative for our school,” concluded the principal who was in place when the program first garnered momentum. “Family engagement has changed the culture and it is a warm, wonderful place to be.”