ORANGE COVE – Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD) opened a new community engagement space this month, to the overwhelming excitement and interest of students’ families.
The district celebrated the opening of the Community Learning Center at Orange Cove High School with a ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 and an open house on Nov. 15. Located just off Anchor Avenue on the high school’s campus, the Community Learning Center will function as a multipurpose building for informational nights, staff training, supplemental learning opportunities and more.
“The Community Learning Center really is a place for the community, for parent education, for community engagement,” Veleda Oltjenbruns, KCUSD parent education and engagement coordinator, said. “Here tonight in this open house, we really want to invite the families in the community to let them know that this is their space, too.”
At the open house on Nov. 15, community turnout exceeded the district’s expectations, so much so that it is planning to hold a second open house to give more families the opportunity to check out the space and connect with resources offered by both the district and local organizations.
Approaching the relatively small building on a rainy Wednesday evening, a line snaked out into the high school parking lot as families waited to enter a raffle, enjoy popcorn and have more standing room inside the learning center to hear all about the different area support services they can access.
Information booths connected families to vital resources, including CalFresh, social-emotional learning social workers, representatives from the KCUSD migrant education department and adult school, United Health, Adventist Health and the Education and Leadership Foundation.
During the event, Oltjenbruns said the district was surveying families present to get a better understanding of what they would like to see from the Community Learning Center, which is meant to be a versatile space that meets whatever need the community has. To make sure the KCUSD community will get the most out of the center, Oltjenbruns said they will plan workshops and events based on the feedback gathered.
As for current feedback, Oltjenbruns said she has heard from parents that they would like assistance with social-emotional development, which could look like providing classes on how to support students as they transition through different grade levels. Another important issue in the community is food scarcity, so the district could look into including a food pantry at the center to meet that need for families.
She noted that, by designing the center to be flexible and address educational and familial needs, KCUSD is able to support the whole child, “because it really is a whole community and a whole district; it takes everybody to meet the needs of students and parents,” Oltjenbruns said.
While new buildings are typically opened and celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony, she said the district hosted the open house as well because they “want the community to know that they have input, and this is a center to serve them,” Oltjenbruns said.
The idea for the center came about during the COVID-19 pandemic when the district recognized that many families did not have technology devices or internet access at home, or even just needed some extra support services. State and federal emergency funds distributed to KCUSD for health- and safety-related improvements to facilities allowed the idea for the Community Learning Center to come to fruition, and construction wrapped up in August.
Other than workshops and general information nights, Oltjenbruns said the district could use the space for restorative justice mediations and professional development for school staff.
Above all else, Oltjenbruns emphasized that, what really stood out at the open house, was how much a space like the Community Learning Center — and even just a general information night — is needed.
“There’s so many support services that families either don’t know exist or don’t know how to connect to,” Oltjenbruns said. “Now that we know this is a need, this is the kind of thing that we’re going to do more of, because now we know what the community needs.”