Union Schools and Community Collaborate
By EMILY RAMSEY
LEARNING HEALTH: Both students and parents work in the gardens at Rosa Parks Elementary as a part of Global Gardens’ partnership with Union Public Schools.
Courtesy Global Gardens
The school should be an integral part of the community. That is the belief behind Union Public Schools and its many community partnerships.
One long-time district partner is Asbury Methodist Church. The church donated the land north of the church where adult education courses are held, including G.E.D., personal enhancement and English as a second language courses.
Also on the land is a garden created by Global Gardens, which is used by sixth and seventh graders.
The fitness center in the Union Multipurpose Activity Center has always offered memberships to the community. Recently, Dickinson took oversight of the facility’s health and wellness programs, offering classes and specialized programs.
First Baptist Church opened Center Cross, a free clothing closet offering gently-used clothing to students and their families.
“Clothing and food are all barriers to student success. Partners help us remove these barriers so students can focus on success and learning,” says Denise Vaniadis, the high school director of student life. “We would never be able to do these things on a school budget.”
Recently, the High School held parent teacher conferences, and Bethany Church provided dinner and child care. Many of the volunteers were church members and Union students. “We want to raise students to be givers and be community minded,” Vaniadis says. “Our partners also provide wonderful role models to kids as to how to serve the community. They are examples of loving their community and loving the kids.”
On Dec. 2, the Church of Battle Creek will hold a Christmas event for families who need assistance in providing toys for their children. The church will offer playtime for kids while parents shop for toys that will be made available by the church.
The community especially takes center stage with Union’s two community schools: Rosa Parks and Roy Clark Elementary, with help from the Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI). TACSI is a participant in the national Coalition for Community Schools. More than 9,000 students and their families are impacted by the 31 TACSI elementary schools found in low-income neighborhoods throughout the Tulsa area. Many programs, services and opportunities are also offered by school partners through TASCSI.
“We are looking at empowering and improving communities,” says Erin Valez, community schools coordinator. “We can’t do that without serving the community. We want to turn community schools into neighborhood hubs.”
OU Community Health has clinics in both Rosa Parks and Roy Clark Elementary and serves over 4,000 patients per year. “In the past, students would be taken out of class for doctors’ appointments or appointments for their siblings,” says Valez. “Now they can go to the doctor at school.”
The facility is open to students and the community and also offers vision screenings and a dental health center.
In addition, both schools partner with Global Gardens. Rosa Parks was the first school to partner with the non-profit organization.
Students learn about healthy diets and how to create and maintain a garden. Class curriculums are created to incorporate learning in the garden with classroom instruction and real-world experiences.
“Kids are learning to grow and try organic foods,” Valez says. “Students are eating raw kale.”