Winter Gear Drive box at Park Terrace Elementary with boats and boots

Access to a doctor or a dentist. Winter gear that doesn’t break the bank. Food for the weekend. Support for parents in understanding and supporting their child’s development. All of these are necessary for creating the conditions for a child to learn. That’s why we’re focused on expanding our continuum of supports for families.

In all Spring Lake Park Schools, a full continuum of supports is available for each student’s academic, social, emotional and behavior needs and development. Over the last few years, focused work to strengthen how we work with all students as well as students who benefit from targeted support has been underway. This year, attention is turning to what families need to support a child’s learning.

"We have a long history of supporting families in a variety of ways. We were really looking at adding new layers of family support knowing the significant impact gaps in basic needs have on our learners,” says Kaline Sandven-Marinello, Director of Special Education and Student Services. “When families don’t have to prioritize basic needs over getting to school, it helps learning."

From health navigation and vaccination clinics to family education events and meeting basic needs for food, warm clothing and other supplies, the continuum of support is expanding.

Health services

Spring Lake Park Schools is an organization of educators not health care providers. That’s why as health care needs have changed and increased for students and families, partners are necessary.

Flu clinic images

Our friendly neighborhood school nurses hosted a free vaccine clinic for students this fall with our partner Neighborhood HealthSource. 

Becca Williams, lead nurse, worked with Neighborhood HealthSource on vaccination and immunization clinics this fall. The goal was to get kids up-to-date on required vaccines, and later, to provide flu and COVID vaccinations.

“Our first clinic this fall was a huge success,” says Becca. “We actually ran out of vaccine for some age groups and were turning people away. This is one way we can work to keep kids healthy and in school.”

Neighborhood HealthSource, a federally qualified health center with four locations, provides access to health services without the barrier of cost to help prevent chronic conditions and improve health and well-being. Through a grant, Neighborhood HealthSource is also funding a health navigator to work with Spring Lake Park Schools families.

A health navigator is like a healthcare guide. They help families apply for health insurance and other state and federal benefits. They assist families in finding health and dental care. They can provide connections to resources for housing and transportation. They are also trained in vaping education.

“The goal is to help people make smart choices about their health, feel better, and get through the complicated healthcare system more easily,” says Becca.

A health navigator will be in school buildings two days a week - mostly at Spring Lake Park High School and Westwood Intermediate and Middle School and available to travel to all schools. Spring Lake Park Schools families can access health navigation services through their school social worker.

“We want to be proactive about the topics our kids face these days,” says Becca. "If this is beneficial to our community, we will seek other grant resources and funding to continue providing health navigation."

This winter, Becca also is bringing in a dental clinic. Through a partnership with Minnesota School Sealant program, the clinic will offer sealants for children as well as dental exams at subsidized prices. As details are finalized, they will be shared with families.

Family learning events

Family education events are also expanding this year after a couple of successful events last year. The social work team is hosting three events – one each trimester – on topics parents ask most often about.

The first was in October on the topic of mental health awareness and coping skills. On January 24, the team will focus on child development over the ages and what families can do to support their children. On April 10, the topic is positive communication and working through difficult topics. Events are held in the early evening in the Westwood Den with refreshments and time for families to connect. Families interested in attending one or both of these events, are asked to RSVP using this online form.

"We’ve chosen these topics because these are the things we're asked about the most,” says Kaline. “Families want to know - Is this normal? When should I be worried? What do I do if I am worried? Social workers can help families understand at what point a concern warrants greater intervention.... versus this is just normal child development."

Abbey Pierce, lead social worker, emphasizes how parent interest guides the topics and conversations.

"Opening up dialogue and being able to talk with parents is valuable,” says Abbey. “We really want to get to a place where they are sharing what they need, and we can know how we can better support them and their child.”

Meeting basic needs 

Sometimes, a family’s needs are more basic – clothing, school supplies, food for the weekend. In partnership with the county, local churches, The Panther Foundation, generous community members and other organizations, those needs are being addressed.

Crayons were handed out as part of the back-to-school backpack event

700 backpacks filled with school supplies were handed out to elementary, middle and high school students who need them before the start of the school year.

The Panther Foundation has a long tradition of meeting basic needs. In the late summer, they partner with the local Lion’s Club to provide backpacks with school supplies. This year they gave away 700 backpacks. The foundation also supports the Weekend Food Pack Program and has since the 2013-2014 school year. The program sends food home with students who need it over the weekend.

“Last year, The Panther Foundation funded more than 7,000 weekend food packs,” says Colleen Pederson, the Panther Foundation’s Executive Director. “When kids are hungry, it’s hard to learn. Those who donate to the foundation for projects like this know that they are helping create the conditions for children to be able to learn, grow and succeed.”

In response to student needs at Spring Lake Park High School, staff opened the Panther Pantry – a dedicated space in the high school building. Students are able to take food, clothing, sheets, towels, and personal hygiene products for free.

"It’s important for families to know that we are a resource,” says Abbey. “If we don't have what they need, we can put people in touch with partner organizations and community resources. If we don’t know there is a need, we can’t help.”

A recent winter gear drive asked district families to share their gently used, outgrown winter gear. Boxes at each school’s entry collected donations that are being distributed over the winter as needs are identified in the school community.

“As a school district, our focus is always going to be on learning. It’s why we exist,” says Kaline. “While we are not equipped to address a full spectrum of family needs, we continue to seek ways to build capacity and more importantly, partner with and connect families to resources in our community that help our children stay healthy and ready to learn.”

Learn more about the work within the District Operational Plan project Continue to Strengthen the Continuum of Supports on the Strategic Plan page of the website.