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11-04-11: Wildwood staff tours agencies that serve the needy
11-04-11: Wildwood staff tours agencies that serve the needy

With an increasing number of students falling into poverty at their school, Wildwood Elementary School staff members took their first-ever field trip last month to two community agencies that serve local families in need.

Nearly 30 teachers and several support staff toured St. Francis House and the Puyallup Food Bank in downtown Puyallup.

“We have a heart for these kids and their families, and this will help us to be a bit more involved in the challenges they face,” said Vicki Egeland, a paraeducator who helps students struggling in reading and math.

Wildwood Elementary has more than 50 percent of its students who qualify for the free or reduced-price school lunch program.

They are often the same students, teachers say, who show up to school without a coat on a cold day, without supplies on the first day of school, and without proper fitting shoes.

“I have had kids who tell me they will finish their homework when the electricity gets turned back on,” said Joan Stluka, a second-grade teacher who has worked at Wildwood Elementary the past 12 years. “The needs are increasing.”

The field trip, paid for by the school district’s Office of Diversity Affairs, supports efforts by Wildwood Elementary staff the past several years to better understand how to serve students and families in need.

On Wednesday early release days this year, for example, the staff is reading and discussing a book that is paired with a DVD about how to educate students in poverty. Teachers are learning, for example, how poverty impacts learning and what teaching and learning strategies are effective to break poverty barriers.

This year’s field trip also builds on an activity that Wildwood Elementary teachers have participated in the past four years at the start of school. The educators have taken a school bus through neighborhoods in the school’s attendance area to visit students and families and hand out information fliers and free giveaways.

A show of hands on last month’s trip to the food bank and St. Francis House indicated that many of the teachers and other staff had heard of the two resources, but few had toured the facilities.

St. Francis House

First stop for the busload of educators was St. Francis House, which for the past 35 years has distributed donated clothing, toys, household items, and food to people in need. The facility is on Seventh Street Southeast.

St. Francis House store manager Arlene Sambila led teachers through the areas where people shop for free items ranging from coats, shoes, and toys to kitchen dishes, holiday decorations, and infant clothing.

She also walked them through the agency’s newly expanded storage facility, where donated items are neatly sorted and labeled.

The facility serves 2,300 families a year from throughout Pierce County, excluding downtown Tacoma, Sambila said.

The educators also watched a short video about the history of St. Francis House and the services it provides.

Puyallup Food Bank

On their next stop, the staff visited the newly relocated Puyallup Food Bank on 23rd Street Southeast. The food bank has been in existence since 1972 and serves between 35 and 42 families per day.

Educators walked up and down rows of food and supplies for people in need, as well as a special section of food and care items for family pets.

They ended their tour in a brightly painted room, which was a vision of Operations Manager Shanna Peterson, filled with wrapped toys and gifts that parents can choose from to celebrate their child’s birthday.

Heather McMullen, assistant principal at Wildwood Elementary, tearfully read Peterson a prepared statement that accompanied a food donation from school staff in honor of colleague Daryl Cosand. The third-grade teacher died unexpectedly in September.

“Our dear friend and colleague Daryl Cosand would have loved to be here today,” McMullen said. “Daryl made it his life mission to help those around him and search out opportunities to spread joy … With this donation of 168 cans of tuna fish and 50 jars of peanut butter, we know that Daryl is smiling at us with his great smile and twinkling eyes.”

Staff response

First-grade teacher Teri Marth said she was “very impressed” with both facilities.

“You know those resources are out there, but it’s good for us to see what they are like in person,” she said.

Wildwood Elementary Principal Glenn Malone said teachers are already discussing possible ways the school can help support the two agencies through activities such as a toilet paper drive.

The school has also prepared a list of community resources for families in need to hand out this month during parent-teacher conferences.

“It is more than a list of names,” Malone said. “Our staff can now say, ‘here is what I know they can do for you because I’ve been there.’”