Back to school is very different this year for the majority of students. In Yolo County students, teachers, administrators, parents and caregivers are all adapting to 100% distance learning again this fall in an effort to protect the community during the pandemic. Empower Yolo’s shelter staff and After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) staff have been diligently preparing for a school year like no other.

As many parents are adjusting to working at home while managing remote learning with their children, imagine distance learning with about 15 children from 4 different school districts, ranging from kindergarten to college grade levels. Empower Yolo’s shelter staff has been working tirelessly to prepare the children in the shelter to return to school remotely – juggling their different schedules, computer programs/technology, and different needs for each child.

“We created two classrooms in the shelter to accommodate all the children doing their distance learning in a safe, quiet and productive environment,” says Sandra Solorzano, Deputy Shelter Director, Empower Yolo. “Shelter staff has also helped with enrollment and connecting parents with teachers; we also provide power snacks for the kids to help keep them focused,” says Solorzano.

The Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) has been helpful in assisting shelter staff prepare the children. They provided two new desks to help accommodate all the students, provided chromebooks and headsets for the children who needed them, and one hotspot.

Although the shelter staff was prepared, they were met with some challenges. “With the different grade levels from kindergarten through college it has been a challenge helping each student set up as many of them are using different online programs, which most parents and kids have never even used before; and for some parents it’s the first time they are using a computer. We also need to keep the little ones under 5 years old entertained, as they are not in school,” says Solorzano.

In addition to back to school efforts, the shelter is also undergoing a complete shelter kitchen-remodeling project, which began in July 2020. There’s a lot to manage at the shelter at this time while also trying to keep everyone safe and healthy especially during the pandemic. Shelter staff are also tasked with providing all extra support the children and families need.

“Staff help the kids with all of their needs for school. We provide any extra support as our advocates have teaching experience, are bilingual, and have training in special education,” says Solorzano.

Through it all the children, clients and shelter staff persevere working together to support the kids’ education and well-being; and the shelter staff continue to make the clients and their children the first priority.

“The kids are trying to adapt to a new life after leaving an unhealthy household and some are starting new schools in new districts. Our shelter advocates are providing all the support and attention they need to help them succeed,” says Solorzano.

Thanks to wonderful donors in our community including Purpose Nutrition in Woodland, Davis Community Church, RISE in Winters, Yolo County Association of Realtors, and private donors every student received a backpack with school supplies and a headset to prepare them for the school year. We are grateful to these donors for their generosity and support.

Community members can help support the students in the shelter by providing healthy snacks and drinks for the shelter classrooms (individually wrapped snacks are best such as granola bars, fruit snacks, cracker packs, or pretzel packs). Donations can be dropped off at the main office, 175 Walnut Street in Woodland, or the D Street Resource Center, 441 D Street, Davis; Monday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

 After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETS):

Empower Yolo is also supporting local teens attending Pioneer High School and Woodland High School through its ASSETs program.

The ASSETs team has worked hundreds of hours researching resources, planning, and creating lesson plans to ensure that they are prepared to meet the needs of the students and families they serve in the remote environment. “Over the summer, we engaged in virtual trainings on social emotional support, developing engaging virtual programs, and learning more about virtual programs and supports available to enhance our services and offerings. We feel confident in supporting the students this fall,” says Fabian Iglesias, Director of Youth Programs & ASSETs Program Manager, Empower Yolo.

For the 2020-2021 school year ASSETs will offer success coaching and advising where ASSETs staff meet with students via Zoom to discuss and strategize on topics such as: college & career plans, resume building strategies, job search strategies, time management, and managing stressors. ASSETs will also be providing academic and tutoring services, social and wellness programs, college and career programs, leadership and community service programs, and the opportunity for students to engage in or create clubs.

“This year we will also be piloting a support program for English language learners and their families, called English Assist. English Assist will offer supplementary English support and enrichment for English learner students. We will also be offering free, no-credit, English classes for parents beginning in October as part of English Assist,” says Iglesias.

The ASSETs team is working through a few online challenges. “One of the challenges we expect to continue working through is students’ technology fatigue. Due to the increased amount of online meetings for students, we need to continue innovating ways to engage students in our programs, and align our online offerings with their interests and needs. We have been working tirelessly to create virtual programs and club offerings that will not only engage students but will also develop their leadership, academic, and social skills,” explains Iglesias.

There are also benefits to online learning giving students more access to resources. “One upside to the virtual environment is the ease for collaborating across distance. Prior to the remote environment it would have been challenging to bring in a collaborator outside of our county. Through Zoom we have been able to bring in different colleagues, speakers, and contributors to support our team and programs. As a result, we are now able to move forward with the development of our English Assist program,” says Iglesias.

The community can help support our teens. “As a community we need to continue to hold space for youths during these challenging times. As we know, many youths are experiencing difficulty adapting to the continuous changes brought on by COVID-19. Some are deeply feeling the impact of social distancing and may be experiencing anxiety. We must remain vigilant and provide support to youths in order to support their well-being during this time,” says Iglesias.

ASSETs is also available as a resource for parents and guardians. Our ASSETs Youth and Parent Engagement Specialists are here to assist you in supporting your student during this time. They are available to meet virtually and will be hosting workshops on topics related to supporting students’ well-being and success. ASSETs workshops for parents and guardians will be held on the last Wednesday of the month from 10 – 11 a.m. For questions, or to register for workshops please contact the ASSETs team at [email protected], or call Empower Yolo at 530-661-6336.

We also have a few extra school supplies for students in need at our main office in Woodland.
Although this school year may be like no other, Empower Yolo remains consistent in its efforts to help support students and their families.

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