VUSD gets connected with the community

After years of pandemic rules and regulations, Visalia Unified hopes to get its students reconnected with the community

VISALIA—Now that schools are returning to normalcy after years of pandemic regulations, Visalia Unified School District is kicking off the upcoming school year by getting its students connected with more community involvement and extracurricular activities through the One Visalia Connected initiative.

Through the One Visalia Connected initiative, the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) wants to connect students with more opportunities in the business community and extracurricular activities. This is not only to improve academic performance but also help students better develop their social and emotional health. Through activities like sports, arts and also business-related opportunities, VUSD hopes its students will be more engaged with the community and perform better in school.

“It’s about showing kids a path forward, a positive path forward,” VUSD superintendent Kirk Shrum said. “I think if every kid is connected, and there’s a trusted adult in school, it’s important because now we’ve put all of our kids on the right trajectory.”

When Shrum was hired with VUSD on March 8, One Visalia Connected was one of the strategies he brought with him to the table. Shrum said a lot of the reasoning for this initiative began with the lack of connectivity from students after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. As a former educator, Shrum said he saw the first-hand impact of the pandemic on classrooms, along with the impact of students not being connected with the community and how it can manifest in negative ways.

“If we actually were able to connect every kid to something meaningful, that could be a game changer for so many of our students and our families in the community,” Shrum said.

Some of the ways students can be more involved through the initiative is by getting involved with more local business opportunities. This could be through the city of Visalia or with the county, like an internship with the district attorney’s office. VUSD plans to expand internships to more businesses, but also hopes to set students up with mentorships if their desired field does not provide internship opportunities. A mentorship is guidance provided to an inexperienced person from someone who is already experienced.

According to VUSD public information officer Kim Batty, the district hopes to set up a wide variety of opportunities through the school district so it can best aid students regardless if they are interested in internships, mentorships, job shadows or volunteer work.

While the school district already works with some facilities throughout Tulare County as educational partners, like Kaweah Health and the city of Visalia, VUSD would like to expand its partnerships to bring in additional opportunities for students. VUSD wants to expand creative activities already offered through the visual and performing arts, like marching band, color guard and drama.

According to Shrum, VUSD will host a series of roundtable discussions this coming September. The district’s current business partners, faith-based partners and any other interested parties are encouraged to attend so VUSD can identify other partnership opportunities, discuss what it means to partner with VUSD and discuss the technical qualifications needed to do so, like background checks.

“We’re really going to use the roundtables as a way to strengthen the current partnerships, but also identify other potential partnerships out there,” Shrum said.

Research from the California Department of Education states that students who are engaged with a positive school environment are more likely to perform better in classrooms. According to the department’s website, research shows that a positive school climate can influence a student’s motivation to learn and improve themselves academically. Students that feel safe, valued, respected and cared for are typically more engaged and their learning increases.

Schools that provide students with support to meet these basic needs allow them to grow socially and emotionally and avoid problems ranging from emotional distress to drug use to violence—in addition to helping them achieve academically,” the website states.

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