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Livermore Connects Families with Vital Services to Help Children Succeed in School

The City of Livermore won a Grand Prize in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2006 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam. 

Marylin Avenue Elementary is one of Livermore’s oldest schools. But a review by the state Department of Education in 1999 revealed it was the only school rated as under-performing in the Tri-Valley region, which comprises the cities of Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin.
 
The Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) found several internal challenges to improving Marylin’s scores. The teachers were committed but burned out from working in a school with so many academic challenges. Marylin is located in the city’s lowest-income area with the most racially diverse population, and 40 percent of the students are eligible for the free or reduced-cost lunch program, twice the rate of other schools in the district.
 
More than 75 percent of Marylin’s families do not have health insurance or lack adequate insurance coverage for basic needs. Basic healthcare is available locally only through a busy community clinic, while specialty health or dental care can only be accessed in Oakland, 30 miles from Livermore. Many of these families do not have a reliable form of transportation beyond public means, so a doctor’s visit means taking an entire day off from work, often without pay. And because these families cannot afford childcare, parents often must take the whole family for one child’s appointment.
 
LVJUSD also discovered something the teachers already knew: Many Marylin students had difficulty learning because they were hungry, physically ill or had dental problems or vision impairments. Marylin’s former principal, Joseph Turnage, asked, “How can we expect a child to be successful in school when they are occupied with physical pain instead of their lessons?”
 
Gaining Access
 
In 1999, Project Roadrunner was created by a public-private partnership that attracted more than 40 community participants. Its mission was not only to respond to the state’s mandate to raise Marylin’s test scores but also to help children be successful throughout their lives.
 
The Children’s Health Access Partnership (CHAP), a subcommittee of Project Roadrunner, was formed with 10 public and private agencies. The goal of CHAP is to develop and implement innovative programs that aid low-income and immigrant families with medical care access and help children overcome barriers to being successful in school.
 
CHAP’s first task was to address the lack of access to insurance. A health fair was held to help families sign up for low-cost insurance. School nurses, Alameda County Public Health nurses and Axis Community Clinic continue to assist these families to access care and maintain their insurance.
 
Parent University, a new adult-learning model sponsored by LVJUSD, the city, Kaiser Permanente and Tri-Valley Community Foundation, was held to provide information regarding local agencies to families and immunizations to children. Twenty-five community-based organizations participated at the half-day event, with more than 200 people attending and 80 children receiving immunizations.
 
CHAP continues to provide immunizations on the first day of school through HOPE Van, a partnership of the cities of Livermore and Fremont, Tri-Valley Haven and two Fremont nonprofits. Immunizations are also given at Asbury Methodist Church, lunch site of Open Heart Kitchen, which is the only free hot meal program in the Tri-Valley area. Since 2003, between 50 and 60 children have received immunizations each year.
 
In addition, CHAP reached out to more than 30 local dentists who were willing to provide services at a reduced rate or for free, making it possible for families to receive dental care locally rather than traveling all the way to Oakland. To date, $10,000 in local grants has leveraged more than $50,000 in services from Livermore dentists, who have provided more than 120 dental visits for 55 children.
 
The city’s Housing and Human Services Division is the fiduciary agent for all CHAP grants. The Dental/Health Grant was established with an Alameda County grant and continues with funding from Livermore, Tri-Valley Community Foundation and the California HealthCare Foundation. The city does not charge any administrative fees to LVJUSD to provide this service.
 
The food pantry at Marylin Avenue Elementary distributes more than 100 bags of food each month to families at Marylin, Portola and Jackson elementary schools. In addition, the pantry has a school-site farmer’s market that offers families in the surrounding low-income neighborhoods greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, Open Heart Kitchen provides over 400 weekend boxed lunches to school children at Marylin and Portola Elementary for children receiving free school lunch.
 
Rincon Library is currently focusing on a theme of nutrition education during their bilingual story time. In January, 43 families attended the library’s reading of “Apples, Mangoes and Pears,” with samples of fruit provided by Safeway. And Kaiser Permanente has awarded CHAP $13,000 to establish the Healthy Helpings Cooking Class, which will teach participants how to modify a traditional recipe with healthy ingredients and provide a bag of groceries to cook the meal at home.
 
Achieving Success
 
Through an unprecedented community effort to connect families with health care, food and health insurance during the past five years, Marylin students’ test scores have improved while their demographics continued to change.
 
Overall, test scores increased with native English speakers raising their scores by 15 percent, children below the poverty line by 15 percent and, most impressively, students for whom English is a second language by 20 percent. Programs for the lowest-income children that began at Marylin have now expanded throughout the district. 
  • Since 2004, Portola Elementary has offered the Nutrition and Fitness Olympics to summer school students.
  • The Seamless Summer feeding program will also be offered to children from Title 1 schools. Open Heart Kitchen will provide meals to fill the two-week gap between summer school and the regular academic year.
  • The “Harvest of the Month” program provides students with a nutrition curriculum and produce samples in elementary classrooms throughout the district. The school nutrition program incorporates the featured produce into the lunch menu. 
These new and strengthened partnerships have enhanced other services throughout Livermore and the Tri-Valley area.
 
The emphasis placed on the needs of grade school children in Livermore raised awareness of the needs of all children. Staff of Tri-Valley cities and the county supervisor’s office are working with Alameda County Health Care Services to develop an Adolescent Wellness Center. The initial phase of developing a needs assessment to guide the development of the center with the Youth Advisory Commissions of all three cities is currently under way.
 
Valuable Lessons for Other Communities
 
The Children’s Health Access Partnership offers valuable lessons for other communities. First, communities should think beyond the typical partners and reach out to all members of the community. Second, outside restraints should not guide the development of new programs. Livermore has historically been viewed as a community with few needs. Although the programs started small, their popularity emphasized the need for assistance services, prompting program expansion. And finally, always keep in mind why the program was established: to help all children succeed in school and throughout their lives.
 
Contact: Jean Prasher, human services manager, Housing and Human Services Division, Community Development Department, City of Livermore; phone: (925) 960-4586; e-mail: japrasher@ci.livermore.ca.us.