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Story of Granger shows caring can pay dividends

 

The tiny nonprofit that over the past 13 years has enhanced the lives of families, particularly the children, in the mostly Hispanic Yakima Valley Community of Granger has provided growing evidence that caring can pay dividends.

Sharing the story of the launch and growth of the little nonprofit, born spontaneously at a Thanksgiving table in 2003 as Bellevue businesswoman Joan Wallace and her sister in law Janet Wheaton fretted about the Granger children going hungry during the holidays, has become my Thanksgiving offering for the past half-dozen years.

It's the kind of story that deserves being shared anew, particularly since each year brings new successes and new chapters of the story for the small 501c3 called Families of Granger.

But the visibility Granger’s schools and the community’s families have gained over the past year could not have been imagined by its most committed supporters. What’s happened in Granger has become a success story that deserves replicating in other communities where need abounds.

The dividends for the community and those who have supported the annual plea from Wallace to her email friends and, for the past couple of years, including the letter signed by Wheaton, were the Granger middle school establishing the best attendance record in the state. And following that, Granger schools being honored with the first Innovations in Education award.

From a mediocre attendance record typical of the schools down the length of the Yakima Valley and in most of rural Washington, schools in the Granger district for the 2014-2015 school year recorded a chronic absenteeism rate of 3.6 percent, more than four times better than the statewide average of 16 percent.

Results for attendance marks for last year have not yet been announced by the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in Olympia, and unfortunately no plaque or certificate has been presented to the school for its attendance performance in the 2014-2015 year.

That seems like a sadly missed opportunity to recognize a dramatic accomplishment for a district in a community that is 85 percent Hispanic or Latino and where nearly a third of the families live below the poverty level.

To become the school with the state’s lowest incidence of chronic absenteeism (defined as missing 18 or more school days during the year), Granger middle school, had an average that was more than twice as good as the rates in Bellevue, Mercer Island and Lake Washington districts.

The quest for perfect attendance at Granger middle school was keyed to "Every Child, Every Seat, Every Day," which became a mantra for students, teachers and parents that allowed the district to achieve the best attendance in the state last year.

The program was created by Alma Sanchez, a mother of three turned student at Heritage University, turned education entrepreneur working at the Granger schools. She conceived and, with Wheaton’s help, “sold” to the students and parents as a “we can do it” belief in the full-attendance program,

While there is no display of the top-attendance mark, the Innovations in Education Award “is proudly displayed in the trophy case at the entrance of the Granger Middle School,” Wheaton said. Wallace, Wheaton and Sanchez were also honored in the Innovations in Education Award for their roles in the attendance program.

The award, presented by the Discovery Institute and sponsored by Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, the Seattle law firm of Patterson Buchanan, KCPQ Television and Sound Publishing, is intended to become an annual award, which will enhance the Granger School District’s visibility as the first recipient.

And Wheaton noted, in an email to me, that the state has “put a very big focus on attendance this year,” adding her sense that the recognition given to Granger for its remarkable accomplishment has had much to do with that state effort. She noted that a panel from Granger was invited to share their success and the program’s specific strategies at a regional forum held in Yakima this fall.

The Friends of Granger 501c3 was instrumental in the district being awarded a $15,000 grant from the Yakima Valley Community Foundation, which has been renewed again last year and this year with the grant helping pay the costs of the attendance-incentive program.

Granger’s children are attracting broader attention as the women in Wallace’s Bellevue Presbyterian Church knitted hats, mittens and scarves and the importance of that was explained in a letter to the church women from a developmental preschool teacher in Granger.

“My children have not come to school with any sort of winter wear to cover their heads, necks, and hands.  I have noticed that these little hands and ears are very cold as our weather has been changing to colder temperatures.  My young students really appreciate your kind hearts,” she wrote.

“Melts your heart,” emailed Wallace as she sent me the picture of the youngsters in their hats.

“I never thought, when we started this, we would still be doing it and seeing how much has happened,” Wallace emailed me.

Then she shared, with obvious amusement: “(Husband) Bob looked at me at the outset and said: ‘you know if you start this, it won’t end. When you are working with a poor community, the needs never end. There’ll always be kids that need a new coat or their families are a little short.’”

And so it has been, to her obvious satisfaction.

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Shabana Kahn's efforts capturing squash-world attention

Shabana KahnShabana Khan, perhaps the most recognized women in the world in the fast-growing sport of squash, was honored last week in Philadelphia with the sport's most prestigious national award in recognition of her success in putting on the 2015 Men's World Squash Championship in Bellevue last November.

But despite her growing national, and international, recognition in bringing the world men's event to the this country for the first time, and for the series of squash events being scheduled in Bellevue over the next year, she is still struggling for recognition and support in the city she is seeking to turn into a global squash capital.

Khan, a lithe and athletic 48 year old who is former national women's squash champion and ranked among the world's best in her playing prime in the early 2000s, was honored in Philadelphia during the national squash championships with the 2016 W. Stewart Brauns, Jr. Award for major administrative contributions to the sport.
This season, under Khan's leadership working with PRO Squash Club in Bellevue, what the official publication of US squash describes as "an unprecedented skein of events" is planned for Bellevue, including four junior tournaments as well as a college showcase. To follow is a $200,000, sixteen-man pro tournament, described as "possibly the most lucrative event in tour history."

One of the prize events that will take place in Bellevue will be the first Bellevue Squash Classic in May, squash's equivalent of a PGA golf tour stop. The event, which will bring the world's best squash players to the Pacific Northwest, will showcase the four-wall glass court inside the Hidden Valley Boys and Girls Club, a location that Khan enthuses about.

When I first met and wrote about Khan a year ago, it was as she was struggling to make sure the men's event would come off as planned to fulfill her goals of providing Bellevue an opportunity to promote its role as host of a world-championship sports events, foster a sense of community involvement and support empowering a woman entrepreneur.

But as soon as Khan's challenges with dollars and event support came to light, developer Kemper Freeman provided her some financial support on the spot and Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee became her advocate in the quest to have the City of Bellevue participate. It was too late for that to happen, in part because it was too close to the time the world event was to take place.

But it's not too late for the city to get involved now for the coming year. That's something that would be a given in other communities that had the opportunity to have the brass ring as emerging center of what is becoming an increasingly popular sport in many places around the world.

As the men's world event quietly but successfully came about last fall, despite challenges with the Meydenbauer Center location, the leading world figures in squash, both players and presenters, began pressing Khan to create additional involvements. And those are coming to pass as she fulfills a request from Hong Kong to put on a squash event there, and in Los Angeles, where she will be guiding a major new event focused on young people.
In most places where it is played on a highly competitive level, squash is thriving. What was once known as a sport that was primarily for the wealthy could afford to is now more accessible to people of all income levels.

And with the growth of the sport and the accessibility to new squash players, the U.S., along with England and Egypt, are the three countries where the squash game is thriving most.

Khan founded YSK Events three years ago to bring the men's world event to the U.S. and has served as CEO since then as she and her brother Murad, as president, and sister Latasha as vice president for business development have turned it into what she hopes will be a full-service events company. Murad has played professional squash and it was Latasha who was national women's champion when Shabana defeated her to win the crown, providing me an opportunity to note in my column last year that "best in the family is best in the nation."

"Y" in YSK stands for both her 10-year-old daughter, Yasmine, who is always in her conversations, and her father, Yusuf, who was nine-time India champion when the Seattle Tennis Club hired him in 1968 to come to Seattle to be head tennis pro. Shabana was 2 ½ years old at the time. The "S" and "K" are for her initials.

It was her father who turned the Seattle area into a center for squash and it was he she partnered with to put on the Women's World Championship in 1999, the first time that event had ever been staged in the U.S.

"After hosting the Women's World Championships, I felt very confident in being able to bring the world's major squash event to this area," she told me, referring to last year's men's event.
"Additionally as a former player I wanted to take the sport to a new level and treat these amazing athletes how they truly should be treated," she said. "I had set out to create a new standard for the sport and expectation of the most prestigious event on the Professional tour."
But she noted that the most important consideration for getting the men's world event was that she wanted to thank her ailing father for his role in building the Seattle area into the center of squash in the Western U.S.
A laudable aspect of Khan's events is that they are focused on young people, from ages 11 to 19, giving them the opportunity to interact via Skype with the top squash pros in the world.
"In all the events, we offer free clinics for kids to work with the pros, who are amazing because they realize what we are trying to do and are working hard for them so they take the time with the young people," Khan said.
A key event will be the West Coast College showcase the second week of May, where high school squash players will be competing in what amounts to a recruiting show for college coaches, mostly from Ivy League schools but also a few western schools like Stanford.
Khan is looking for a major sponsor, as well as event sponsors, for her array of events since Wells Fargo, which had the $25,000 sponsorship and wound up with its name carried around the squash world as all the matches were streamed worldwide, has for various reasons not renewed.
"Bellevue is being recognized around the country and around the world so it seems fair to hope we begin getting some recognition in Bellevue," she said.

 
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'Tipping point' pledge for planned Bellevue arts center

A "tipping point" matching pledge of $20 million, half from the Arakawa Foundation, for the planned Tateuchi performing arts center in downtown Bellevue was announced Wednesday evening at a festive gathering of supporters at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue next to the site for the planned $200 million facility.

The $10 million pledged by Yoko and Minoru Arakawa, to name the 2,000-seat centerpiece of the center the Arakawa Concert Hall, puts the facility $122 million in cash and pledges on the way to the spring of 2018 groundbreaking of the $200 million facility, which is increasingly viewed as serving the region rather than just the Eastside.

Cathi Hatch, chair of the campaign, said the Arakawa gift, matched by $5 million each from the Freeman Family and Microsoft Challenge Matches, means "we need another $58 million to go to groundbreaking." Arakawa is founder and former president of Ninetendo.

While the facility will be the venue for many Eastside performing arts groups, the collection of Seattle arts leadership on the Tateuchi advisory board is evidence that the Center is coming to be viewed by Seattle arts organizations as an asset rather than the threat it was viewed as when it was first announced a few years ago.

The center, when completed, is viewed as complementing Seattle arts venues like McCaw Hall, Benaroya Hall, the 5th Avenue and Paramount theaters while filling a regional need by providing a more convenient venue for Eastside residents while offering an Eastside platform for Seattle arts groups.

Other significant donors were also honored at the Wednesday evening event, including the Tateuchi Foundation, for whose donation the center is named. Tateuchi board chair Alex Smith acknowledged tbe role the Bellevue City Council played with its unanimous vote in May of 2015 to provide $20 million toward construction.

The initial boost, when the center was first envisioned, came from the Kemper Freeman family committed the land where the center will be built.

" Between now And groundbreaking in the spring of 2018, our campaign committee will continue to focus on recruiting Founders Society-level donors," said Hatch, who added that donors at all levels will soon be sought, "including children with their penny jars."

The changing attitude of Seattle performing arts leaders toward a Bellevue concert center is in response to an increasing reluctancd of Eastsiders, who account for more than 50 percent of Seattle arts subscribes and Seattle ticketholders, to face the twin traffic challenges of Lake Washington bridges to Seattle and traffic tie-ups in downtown Seattle.

The strategy of Seattle arts organizations is to use the 2,000-seat center for the double benefit of attracting new audience while helping retain existing ticketholders and supporters.

The way it might work, for example, is a ticketholder for a season of 10 performances of a Seattle play, symphony or opera might wind up with seven of those in Seattle and three on the Eastside.

As I noted in a column last fall, the center isn't being done on the cheap, but its supporters like to talk about how the $200 million pricetag compares with projects like the recently opened Las Vegas center, the same eize, that had a pricetag of $400 million.
 

 
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First Innovations in Education Award to Granger School District


The first "Innovations in Education" award will be presented this month to the little Yakima Valley school district of Granger where "Every Child, Every Seat, Every Day" became a mantra for students, teachers and parents that allowed the largely Hispanic district to achieve the best attendance in the state last year.

The Innovations in Education Award is being created by the Discovery Institute and will be presented to three women for their key roles in the attendance-success story of the Granger district, where almost a third of the students are from poverty-level homes.

The award will be presented May 19 at a dinner at the Rainier Club as part of the Discovery Institute's 25th anniversary. Presentation of the award will precede a panel discussion with three noted education-change advocates on the topic of "Creating a 21st Century Public Education System."

The women being honored with the award are:

--Alma Sanchez, mother of four, turned student at Heritage University, turned entrepreneur, who wrote and managed the grant for the attendance-incentive awards program at Granger Middle School.

--Janet Wheaton, recently retired Granger School District administrator, who worked with Sanchez and helped her with the application for the $20,000 grant that funded the incentive program, The "Every Child, Every Seat, Every Day" was the title of Sanchez' grant application to the Yakima Valley Community Foundation.

--Joan Wallace, Bellevue business woman who for more than a decade has helped focus attention on the needs of the families of Granger and created the district's relationship with Heritage.

Discovery Institute is presenting the award in partnership with the Seattle law firm of Patterson Buchanan, a leader in school-personnel legal issues, particularly the annual School law Conference. Bellevue developer and retailer Kemper Freeman, one of whose key focuses has been education since his years in the legislature in the 1970s, is the major sponsor.

To ensure wide visibility for the award this year, and to help guide nominations in future years, Sound Publishing and Q13 television will be media sponsors.

It was in a recent column detailing the dramatic turnaround in "chronic" absenteeism for the schools in Granger to 3.6 percent, more than four times better than the statewide average of 16 percent, that I suggested the achievement merited the attention of those seeking to bring change and educational enhancement to schools. In addition, perfect attendance to 21 percent from 3 percent the previous year.

Steve Buri, president of Discovery Institute, seized the opportunity of the May 19 dinner event and its focus on creating a school system for the current century to agree that the Granger accomplishment merited the first Innovations in Education Award and that the dinner was the appropriate venue.

Discovery Institute's American Center for Transforming Education works with state legislators, policymakers and those involved directly in education to promote systemic change to the nation's education system.

The motivation in Granger to create the attendance-incentive program was the nagging awareness for educators and parents there, as in every economically challenged area, that absenteeism is a key factor in kids failing to succeed in school as well as their becoming prime targets for gang recruitment.

Sanchez worked to create a belief among faculty and staff that full attendance was possible and put encouragement, support and incentives in place for students. She did that by putting together a year-end drawing for five iPads for students with perfect attendance and promoted the program with posters around school.

The year-end awards promotion was accompanied by signage proclaiming "every quarter you are in school every day you will receive fabulous prizes."

The motivation to recognize the achievement with the new Innovations in Education award was the realization on the part of Discovery Institute and the rest of the team of companies involved with the award that significant education change will only come if attention is focused on new ideas that are producing noteworthy change.

Wheaton said she was sure that going forward there will be an effort to measure academic results from the attendance improvement, but added last year already paid a dividend in that it"was the first in many years that the entire district met standard in all areas of the state bilingual test - the Washington English Language Proficiency Exam."

It's worth focusing on the fact that while the public education system is under challenge from forces seeking to bring about necessary changes to curriculum and structure, the Granger story is evidence that essential change can come about through new vision within the current system as well as from external forces.

The panel conversation I will be moderating following the award presentation May 19 event will feature:

--Don Nielsen, who served eight years on the Seattle School Board and has written a book called Every School that has gotten national attention:;

--Bob Hughes, a member of the state Board of Education and former Corporate Director of Education Relations for Boeing.

-- Paul T. Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Research Professor at UW-Bothell, whose focus is on re-missioning states and school districts to promote school performance, school choice and innovation, finance and productivity; and improving rural schools.


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