June 2021

Behind the Scenes: Santa Cruz County Office of Education

Inside Education, May 2021

By Suki Wessling

The final Inside Education meeting of the year featured three organizations that help kids and young adults get out and about in our community.

The Department of Rehabilitation Student Services aims to help students with all types of disabilities transition from their education toward independence, employment, and a successful life. The DOR helps train students to be successful on the job and to have the tools and resources to live independently. Students 16-21 who have an IEP, 504 plan, or a disability can take part in their program, which matches students with a counselor and provides them opportunities to research careers, train, and gain life skills. Read more at www.dor.ca.gov/Home/StudentServices.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches “big” mentors with “little” youth, focusing on 7-14 year olds. Although the mentors only meet two to four times a month, the relationship can affect the trajectory of a young person’s life.

“I wouldn’t have gone to college without knowing Aimee,” says teen Tehya Taul of her mentor. “It’s honestly a life-changing experience to be able to be matched.”
BBBS currently has a waiting list of children looking for a match. The children are largely from low-income, often one-parent families, and have been referred by family, teachers, counselors, and social workers. Visit www.SantaCruzMentor.org for more information.

The County Office of Education’s Special Education (Sped) Program supports post-senior students by offering critical life/vocational skills. The adults who spoke about this program included Kelli Smart, a school psychologist and case manager, and Jessica Little, SELPA Director North County and recipient of the Administrator of the Year Award.

One of the highlights of our community’s post-senior program is The Hub, a gathering place for the students. Students shop together, go to The Hub, and make meals with staff or in small groups.

“The Hub builds incredible independence for our students,” Jessica Little says.
Capitola Mayor Yvette Brooks joined to offer some thoughts about youth programs in the pandemic era.

“This year has been a huge challenge,” admitted Brooks. “Our staff have had to be creative in how they’re serving our students. We were faced not just with the crisis of the pandemic, but in addition to that, having to make huge cuts to our budget. I’m fighting for youth programs—we saw the inequities our families faced.”
One of the most moving speakers of the session was Cypress High School senior Marlize, who had some advice to offer to incoming freshman:

“Value every moment that you have at school. I never thought I’d be in high school for only two years—I had to spend my junior year mostly in my room. That was like a year stolen from me. Appreciate what you have because once it’s gone you’re really going to miss it.”

Thanks to Les Forster, coordinator of Inside Education, and the County Office of Education for allowing us to connect our parent community with the best of local education this year. To read all of our reports about Inside Education, visit GrowingUpSC.com and search for “inside education.”

We’ll end with a summary of the year from Les:

“The recurring theme of teacher and parent resiliency and creativity underscored this year’s series. With an impressive bank of resources established by the County Office of Education, local districts responded to school closure and distance learning with steadfast, innovative, and encouraging lessons aimed at minimizing learning loss and maximizing student and family support academically and emotionally.

Major kudos also to the myriad community partners who joined us for program-specific presentations!”

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