A story behind the data

​​Schools can't do it alone: How community partners boost our students

Fahren Johnson rarely walks to her office in First Creek Middle School without saying hi to at least one student. Teens seek her out to share success stories, ask advice or find out about afterschool activities.

Fahren Johnson of the YMCA of Pierce and Kistap Counties leads the
Eagle Center at First Creek Middle School.

Johnson runs the popular Eagle Center at First Creek, a partnership between the school and the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties. Eagle Center provides support services such as homework help, art and sports, drug counseling, mentoring and English-as-a-Second-Language classes to students and their families.


Johnson works daily in a cozy office, meeting students, parents and teachers and discovering their needs. Yet she remains an employee of the YMCA, allowing her to match resources from the YMCA and other community support partners with the needs of First Creek families.


The relationship with the YMCA frees up teachers and staff to focus on academics and let community partners bring in programming to address the social-emotional needs of the community.


"We know schools can't do it alone - it takes all of us working together," Amanda Scott-Thomas, Community Partnership Director for Tacoma Public Schools said. "The more caring adults and support services that we have for our children, the better their outcomes are as students and members of the community."


Partnersh​ips a priority


Tacoma Public Schools champions the crucial role community partners play in helping students thrive academically and reach graduation. The district's Board of Directors established partnerships as one of its four strategic goal areas for 2016-2020.


Currently, more than three dozen community-based and youth-serving organizations maintain formal partnerships with Tacoma Public Schools. Partnerships include supports such as tutoring programs run by Peace Community Center and theater classes by the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts.


Over the next five years, the Board of Directors plans to see the number of partnerships grow. The Partnership Office at Tacoma Public Schools' provides guidance to organizations that want to get involved.   


Enriching lives


Why get involved? Partnerships between Tacoma Public Schools and community organizations develop students the Tacoma community can be proud of – and who return to serve in local industries.


Partnerships provide benefits to community organizations, too. For Johnson, helping students get the support they need inspires her daily. Her own childhood taught her the value of strong adult mentors. As a foster child in Tacoma, Johnson moved from house to house until a couple in the Hilltop neighborhood adopted her. Her adoptive mom played a major role in the neighborhood by volunteering with kids and helped Johnson discover her own life purpose.


"If she had not come into my life when I was eight years old and given me a different look of who I am and helped me rebuild my identity, I would not be the woman I am today," Johnson said. "That's why I'm so passionate about this program because I know if there's a caring adult in your life it can help you get through adversity."

YMCA mentor Chris Spivey plays basketball with
students from Edison Elementary School.

For Chris Spivey, another YMCA volunteer in Tacoma schools, working with students helps him persevere through his own life challenges.


As the teen outreach director for the local YMCA's Community Impact Center, Spivey participates in the Brotherhood mentorship program at First Creek and Lister, Blix, Sheridan and Roosevelt elementary schools.


The Brotherhood program meets with young men at lunch or afterschool to help develop positive character traits like respect, honesty and perseverance. As a mentor, Spivey talks with kids and plays frequent games of basketball or flag-football. In elementary school, kids practice being a buddy instead of a bully. In middle school, students talk about their goals and how overcoming adversity, rather than the adversity itself, defines a person.  


When Spivey struggled with a devastating family loss last year, his experiences in the schools helped guide him through it. 


"Part of the Brotherhood pledge we teach students is overcoming adversity," he said. "I really had to put that to the test and model that in my life. I'm trying to help change the lives of kids, but at the same time they're influencing my life in a positive way."


G​et involved


Business or community groups interested in partnering with Tacoma schools can contact the partnership office at 253-571-7980 to discuss interests and necessary steps. Individuals can apply to volunteer on our volunteer page. ​​​​​​