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Close to Home: Addressing inequities in Santa Rosa schools

  • Diane Keegan and John Bribiescas, the first vice president and first president, respectively, of Schools Plus attend Schools Plus' fourth annual fundraiser 'A Night Under the Lights' at the Friedman Center in Santa Rosa on October 19, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

I’m writing about the disparities that harm students in Santa Rosa’s schools and the ways in which Schools Plus works to address them.

In a recent Press Democrat article, (”Close yet worlds apart,” June 1) the disparities that hamper our students were delineated in an index of “well being.” Most notably, the contrasts between the Roseland area and the Bennett Valley sector are stark.

If you’ve lived in Santa Rosa for a while, this is common knowledge. Though Sonoma County ranks near the top in terms of overall quality of life, on the well-being scale of 0 to 10, Roseland has the region’s lowest overall ranking of 2.79. By contrast, Bennett Valley scores an 8.47.

In our town, open enrollment has led to disparities, manifested by the distinct difference of student populations in our city’s east-side schools compared to those on the west side. This is most obvious in the secondary schools.

Kerry Benefield’s story (“Donations to Santa Rosa’s schools vary widely,” July 5) provides a specific look at how existing imparities impact the well being of our students by examining charitable donations made to schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools district. Benefield states: An “analysis of one year’s worth of donations made to Sonoma County’s largest school district shows, giving is not equal across the district and in almost all cases, it falls in line with established income disparities between schools.” These imbalances widen the achievement gap, pushing low-income families further behind.

To apply another perspective, a measurement known as adverse childhood experiences, studies show kids who do not have access to enrichment programs — sports, music and art — are at a higher risk for chronic illnesses, even into adulthood. They have a 20-year shorter life expectancy compared to kids who have access to enriching and robust social experiences.

School board member Laura Gonzalez declared, “the extras do add up. That could be a lot of enrichment stuff for kids who lack that.” What are the extras to which Gonzalez refers? Here’s a focused look.

We know to a certainty that kids involved in their schools’ enrichment programs do better in every area of measurement: attendance is much higher; grades improve; and the critical matter of “who am I” finds resolution: I’m a musician in the band; I’m on the tack team. To put it succinctly, school enrichment programs improve kids’ lives.

For instance, track and field meets at our middle schools produce turnouts of literally hundreds of kids. If you are a parent or grandparent attending a meet between Rincon Valley Middle School and Slater Middle School, you are treated to a wonderful spectacle of upwards of 250 student-athletes participating in a healthy, team-building event. But this past spring, one of our west side middle schools did not field a track team. It’s legitimate to speculate that a great number of kids on the west side were denied yet another opportunity available to students in other areas of our town.

Schools Plus aims to fund school enrichment programs in Santa Rosa and has, over the course of 24 years, made sure music, art and sports programs stay in our secondary schools. In other words, Schools Plus is committed to rectifying student enrichment disparities. This past spring, Schools Plus allocated $189,500 to Santa Rosa’s public secondary schools. We have not missed an allocation in 24 years.


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