With the start of a new school year we are reminded of how important it is for schools, family and the community to support our youth, especially our teenagers in becoming future leaders. One such program that supports our county’s teens is Empower Yolo’s After School Safety & Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program, which is administered through the federal, 21st Century ASSETs Grant.

Empower Yolo has partnered with the Woodland Joint Unified School District since 2008 to offer after school programs at both Woodland High School (WHS), called La Semilla at WHS, and at Pioneer High School (PHS), called Pioneer Opportunity Program (P.O.P.). Both ASSETs office spaces operate as student resource centers and are open during regular school days, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

The ASSETs program also offers a summer program and support for Knights Landing WHS/PHS youth at the Empower Yolo Knights Landing Family Resource Center.

“The ASSETs program is meant to engage at-risk youth and decrease high school dropout rates, truancy rates, drug and alcohol use in teens, and gang violence and/or affiliation,” says Jessica Olivares, ASSETs program director at Empower Yolo. “The staff is highly committed to the success of the program. They work closely with students, respect the voices and opinions of students, and model positive behavior and interactions with others. Integrating with the services of Empower Yolo has made many resources and community services available to youth and their families,” Olivares says.

The program promotes equity, access, inclusion and diversity, which is evident through the list of diverse program activities. The program goal is to offer a variety of youth-centered activities including: academic support (tutoring, literacy instruction, homework help, support for English Learners), enrichment opportunities (art, music, dance, spoken word, youth leadership development, community service), college and career readiness and support (SAT Prep, Cyber High, resume workshops, college and financial aid workshops), counseling (individual and support groups), and physical activities (various sports conditioning and fitness activities). A nutritious snack is also provided for participating students.

“The mission of the ASSETs team is to create genuine connections with high school youth and families and provide unique opportunities for the development of life and leadership skills,” Olivares says. The program encourages families and the community to be supportive and involved. “The overall goal of the program is to address identified student needs, and increase student achievement, connectedness to school and the community, and access to support services using the youth development approach,” Olivares says.

The program has proven success. ASSETs past program evaluation has indicated a strong positive relationship between after-school program attendance and regular school attendance. Students who participated in the ASSETs program demonstrated a higher level of regular school attendance than those who did not. Furthermore, those who attended ASSETs for 30 days or more demonstrate better average attendance than those who attended for less than 30 days.

In the 2017-2018 school year, 54,639 (a combined total from both WHS and PHS) high school student impressions (each time a student attends the program) were reached in the ASSETs program.

The program also supports future success for students beyond high school. College application/financial aid assistance are available at both sites. Free SAT prep is also available in the fall. The staff is trained in helping students and families navigate the application process and resources available to them. University trips and youth conferences related to higher education are offered to ASSETs students throughout the school year.

Currently, we are very excited to announce a partnership with Yolo Farm to Fork. We are looking forward to starting after-school student-led garden installation projects on each campus. “The idea is to tie the installation of the gardens into what students are learning at school day by day while partnering with Ag Science and Culinary teachers,” Olivares, says. “Students will learn how to work with welding materials, tend soil, create proper drainage, install irrigation, cultivate vegetables and fruit, and support those in need. This will create experience and build skills,” she says.

The Woodland Youth Council (which is comprised of both WHS and PHS students) will become active again and will resume community service projects such as Fourth & Hope Shelter Meal Prep and Senior Home visits.

ASSETs staff has also been working diligently to address the needs of Knights Landing youth (a more remote youth population) by joining the Knights Landing Youth Development Collaborative led by the Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency.

The community can get involved with ASSETs by becoming program volunteers, or community presenters that inform our parents of new resources, and ways to collaborate with our local community stakeholders to implement new programming or provide program incentives for student participation.

For more information on ASSETs see each school’s ASSETs website and contact information: Woodland High School ASSETs, La Semilla at: https://whs.wjusd.org/Students/Activities/Assets-La-Semilla/index.html; or Pioneer High School ASSETs, P.O.P. (Pioneer Opportunity Program) at: https://phs.wjusd.org/Staff/Pioneer-Opportunity-Program-P-O-P-/index.html.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to one another” – John F. Kennedy is a favorite quote ASSETs staff use to inspire students. “The teens we engage build leadership and team skills while also developing positive relationships with their community; this is a key protective factor that helps them learn and grow,” says Olivares. “We continue to invest our time and energy because the youth are the future,” she says.

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