Golden Valley High School’s PAWS Center
For many, high school is the best time of your life. It’s the place that you meet lifelong friends, you learn how to drive, and experience a lot more independence than your days on the playground. However, there are students who struggle through these formative years because of countless outside influences. Students who face homelessness, financial instability, and lack of access to basic needs like food and clothes. These social issues are on the rise and more and more kids each year struggle to make it to graduation. To combat this issue Principal Sal Frias of Golden Valley High School created the PAWS (Parent Awareness Workshop and Support) Center. “When I think back to when I was a kid, I realized that their were others that were not as fortunate, and going through teaching it became more apparent that there were students that needed an extra bit of support to hopefully take some of that pressure off so they can focus on their academics,” says Frias.
The original concept was to create a place where parents, students, and staff can obtain supplemental resources to help alleviate problems that could impact a student’s education. It still offers these services but has grown into a place for peer engagement and connecting outside resources for several issues a student and their family might go through during the school year. There are now two employees that have furthered the center’s reach, Cindy Takamoto, a social worker for William S. Hart School District and April Rego, the resource coordinator for the PAWS Center. “The program took some time to start due to financial constraints, to keep cost down Frias used admin interns,” says Cindy. These interns were teachers who needed hours in order to obtain their administrative credentials, which came with their own set of challenges. “As teachers, most of their time was spent in the class room, they had one hour a day to devote to the center,” Cindy continued. Eventually, Frias brought on Cindy and April to give the students and their families a more consistent work flow. “We [Frias, Cindy and April] work really well together, because I believe we have the same vision, that the student is a part of a bigger picture in the community,” Cindy stated.
The PAWS Center offers basic necessities like food, clothing, school supplies, along with connecting recipients to outside agencies to help with things not covered within the center.“ The district has a team of social workers and we do a lot of community networking …we attend events to check out the services offered because we want to make sure its not going to mistreat our families,” Cindy added. To keep up-to-date information on the effectiveness of these programs PAWS conducts follow-ups to provide feedback. Additionally, PAWS is able to act as a link between community and the school. “ Sometimes we find that families are not able to communicate well with outside organizations and we act as a liaison between school and the community,” April commented.
Many students who come in are made to feel welcomed and without judgment. “Cindy and I work really hard to make this a safe place, so students will not feel shame for seeking help,” April stated. In more sensitive cases the PAWS center reaches out to the community for more help given the permission of the intended family. “ We absolutely protect families’ confidentiality,” says April.
The PAWS Center has one goal in mind to let their students know that they matter. Since its inception the staff has made it their mission to help as many students, their families and even some faculty to hopefully, break the cycle of poverty by providing a safe space for them to get their needs meet. Even coming up with a plan to help them long after they leave Golden Valley High School. Frias closed with, “We try to create different paths for our students post high school…we have to create something that can work for the diverse group of students we have here and with that we hope to prepare a better future for them and our community. “
photos by Joie de Vivre photographie
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