Edmonds School Board celebrates Student Support Advocates

From left to right: Student Support Advocates Amy Gourde (Alderwood Middle School), Justin Howard (Scriber Lake High School), Victoria Castanenda-Vargas (Meadowdale High School), Latisha Williams (Mountlake Terrace High School), Jacque Julien (Meadowdale Middle School), Chauntelle Guy (College Place Middle School), Teresa Polendo (Edmonds-Woodway High School).

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors honored the Student Support Advocates (SSA) of the Edmonds School District and heard a report on the group during its Tuesday, Jan. 15 meeting.

For 13 years, the Student Support Advocate Program has provided students with the tools they need to navigate their educational careers to a path of success. Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab said it is thanks in part to the SSAs that these students do not fall between the cracks.

“The Edmonds School District commitment is ‘each student learning everyday,'” he said. “We know that there are students in our schools, in our district, who have barriers that make that really difficult.”

With issues like food shortage, unreliable transportation, lack of stable housing and mental health issues, Schwab said it is the efforts of the SSAs that make overcoming these issues possible.

“If it were not for the work of our Student Support Advocates it would not be possible for students to access their education,” he said.

The SSA Program began in 2006 when counselors at Alderwood Middle School and Lynnwood High School approached the then-assistant superintendent about the growing needs of students and their families. Thirteen years later, the SSA Program has grown both in the Edmonds School District and seven other neighboring school districts.

Victoria Castanenda-Vargas, an SSA from Meadowdale High School, said an SSA “wears many hats” in helping students access the appropriate resources to see them succeed.

“We help families navigate these multi-layer systems,” she said. “We also partner with our community resources in our organization.”

Resources like Washington Kids in Transition, Verdant Health Commission and Snohomish County, Castanenda-Vargas said.

Castanenda-Vargas said a big role as an SSA is being a case manager for students and their families.

“We interview students and their families to find their strengths so they can build on them,” she said. “So, the kids and their families can be successful.”

During the SSA Program’s 2017-18 cycle, the nine SSAs in the Edmonds School District case managed 638 students, assisting more than half seeking help for mental health issues and one third of whom were either homeless or at risk of being without a home.

The Student Support Advocate Program is funded by grants from Verdant Health Commission and Snohomish County, Schwab said.

Latisha Williams, an SSA at Mountlake Terrace High School, said building a rapport with the students and their families is essential to laying the groundwork when helping students.

“It’s really important for us to get to know the family as a whole, the students’ needs, their likes, their strengths,” she said.

Williams said the biggest role an SSA plays is being an advocate for students i.

“Students get to know us and they share some of their deepest and hardest things with us,” she said.

The SSA Program is designed to accommodate families with working parents who are not able to attend meetings during designated school hours, Williams said.

Other items on the school board’s agenda included the approval of a tentative agreement for the classified support staff of the Edmonds School District. For months the school board has been in a stalemate with paraeducators and their union representatives who insist the teaching aids have not been earning a livable wage.

Recently-elected Edmonds School Board Vice President Deborah Kilgore said she appreciates the efforts of the paraeducators who came to speak about their experiences.

“Hopefully we can come to a satisfactory agreement,” she said.

— Story and photo by Cody Sexton

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