Partnerships are key to providing enrichment in Ukiah USD

Ukiah Unified School District in Mendocino County serves about 6,000 students — and it’s making great efforts to ensure that summer learning is accessible to all through board support and community partnerships.

Ukiah USD is partnering with the city to provide its Summer Safari Program free of charge to around 1,000 elementary and middle school students attending the district’s summer school program. Students attend summer school in the morning and Summer Safari in the afternoon, where a typical day includes arts and crafts, sports, games, cooking, songs, skits, movies, swimming, field trips and other educational components. Many of the Summer Safari staff are local high school and college students.

The Ukiah USD board approved the funding to support this and other programs, like the Boys & Girls Club of Ukiah, using a combination of sources, including COVID relief funds, Local Control Funding Formula supplemental and concentration grants, and Extended Learning Opportunities grant funds.

Staffing challenges also led the district to look into partnering with nonprofit community organizations to provide additional enrichment activities to students.

“Some of the challenges our students faced during the pandemic were isolation and inactivity,” said Ukiah USD Superintendent Deb Kubin. “As time wore on and we were still serving students primarily at home, the board and superintendent worked with funding sources and partners to increase in-person learning and enrichment activities for our students. We were having difficulty finding enough of our own staff to work in person with students, so we reached out to some of our partners to expand in-person offerings that would get students out of their homes and reconnect them with school, their community and each other. The School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education (SPACE) and the City of Ukiah Parks & Recreation Department are youth-oriented organizations with whom UUSD has a long-standing partnership. Our work together was a natural fit, and when we called them, they answered by offering in-person activities to our students.”

The district’s partnership with SPACE, an acclaimed after-school performing arts program serving youth through age 18, allows Ukiah students to attend free of charge. SPACE classes include instruction in dance, singing, music, acting, comedy, playwriting, clowning and more.

Eighty percent of the students attending Ukiah USD are economically disadvantaged, and it’s important to the district that they are provided with access to enriching activities.

“The students we serve need additional support due to their economic circumstances,” explained Kubin. “Additionally, we live in a rural and isolated part of the state where there are not a lot of meaningful, affordable activities available to our students. Many parents already struggled in our economically depressed area; however, the pandemic resulted in the loss of jobs in our community and a lack of child care. We knew that our families needed help. The pandemic shined a brighter light on these needs, so, when we were provided additional funds to serve our students during the pandemic, we focused on doing everything we could to help our families, including providing our students with meaningful extracurricular activities.”

Ukiah Unified Board President Zoey Fernandez emphasized the importance of the additional relief funding in addressing changing student needs. “The Summer Safari and SPACE programs exemplify what school districts can do with adequate funding and strong partnerships,” said Fernandez. “We only hope that this level of funding is continues so we can continue to serve our students in this way.”

Additional summer programs at Ukiah USD focus on preparing students for transitions in their education journeys. The Ukiah Unified College-Ready Academy is a free workshop series for incoming juniors and seniors at Ukiah High School and Ukiah Independent Study Academy who plan to attend community college or a four-year college. The academy consists of five half-day sessions with a variety of college-ready experts who provide support with college and career exploration, college application and essay support, and financial aid and scholarship applications. Students learn what is needed to begin successful college applications after completing these workshops and visiting Northern California colleges.

The Ukiah High Summer Academy is a free two-week program for incoming ninth-grade students providing diverse experiences to become familiar with Ukiah High School. Teachers, counselors, administrators, staff, and current students orient and welcome new ninth-graders. Students learn how their involvement at Ukiah High opens doorways to career, college and their future. College tours and a parent night are also included.