Taking outreach services on the road has earned Vancouver Public Schools a Magna Awards 2017 Grand Prize, given by the National School Boards Association. The award, one of three in the nation, recognizes the district’s mobile Family-Community Resource Center van for mobilizing resources to remove barriers that impede student success.

Approximately 50 percent of VPS students live in poverty. Mobility, inadequate medical and dental care, mental health issues, lack of affordable housing, homelessness and unmet basic needs are just some of the barriers to learning that thousands of VPS students face. Students living in poverty often experience chronic absenteeism, hunger, medical and dental problems and lack of clothing and hygiene items. Those students typically suffer from chronic stress, reducing their ability to focus on learning. Parent involvement also is diminished. To address the issues of poverty and increase family engagement, VPS has created a network of Family-Community Resource Centers, which now are located in 18 of the district’s 35 schools.

The mobile FCRC serves students at the other 17 district schools without onsite FCRCs. Working with school counselors, teachers, building administrators and community partners, mobile FCRC coordinator Nicole Loran-Graham collects and deploys resources to meet needs when and where they’re needed. Community partners including nonprofit agencies, the faith community and other service organizations generously provide needed donations and services.

Loran-Graham is expanding FCRC resources to reach children and youth at the schools they attend. She is establishing monthly fresh food pantries; setting up clothing and personal hygiene closets with donations from faith-based partners, local fire departments and social service organizations; referring families to Vancouver Housing Authority Section 8 program, which gives preference to VPS families; and hosting FCRC pop-up shops, inviting school personnel to shop for items they need for their students (e.g., school supplies, backpacks, clothing, hygiene items, cleaning supplies).

The mobile FCRC van also is equipped with Wi-Fi, providing online access to assist families in searching for housing, job opportunities, childcare, medical providers and other resources.

“We can’t do this work alone,” said Dale Rice, Vancouver Public Schools’ board president. “On behalf of the school board, I’m incredibly grateful to the hundreds of partners, volunteers and organizations who are committed to the success and wellbeing of our community’s children. Together, we can transform lives.”

Poverty and mobility have a profound effect on student success. In Vancouver Public Schools leaders have responded with a grassroots effort–directing more support to struggling schools and engaging community partners to remove barriers to learning. Vancouver’s “it takes a village” approach is transforming student lives. Achievement gaps are closing, mobility is stabilizing and graduation rates are rising (64 percent in 2010 to more than 80 percent in 2016). The community schools model, which the mobile FCRC helps facilitate, engages local partners in a shared vision that all students can succeed.

The award will be formally announced at the National School Boards Association conference in March.

This is the district’s third Magna Award and first Grand Prize. Previously, the district received Magna Awards in 2015 for its Go Ready! Back-to-School-Readiness Festival and in 2014 for the Kindergarten Jump Start program.