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Celebrating the launch of the Our CASA Network

West High Our CASA Opening

The Glendale/Mountain View CLC will celebrate the grand opening of the new Our CASA space next Monday, February 27th, from 5:00 to 7:00. Everyone is invited for food, refreshments, speakers, and prizes.

Ensuring that higher education is truly accessible to all is a collaborative task. Schools alone cannot address the multiple barriers that young people and their families face along the road to college. Overcoming these barriers takes parents, teachers, counselors, peers, universities, and other community partners working in tandem from elementary school on.

It’s about more than one-off college themed events. It’s about creating a consistent culture across schools and communities that promotes college as a real option, and then addressing systemic barriers so that these promises do not ring hollow. It’s about supporting parents to further their own educations and navigate school systems, while supporting educators to better understand families and their aspirations for their children. It’s about creating clear, coherent, and navigable pathways from elementary school to higher education, including all the academic, financial, and social steps along the way.

The Our CASA Network was founded on this understanding. It is made up of parents, students, educators, higher ed institutions, and community partners who want to open up pathways to higher education for west side SLC families. They carry out this mission by creating welcoming, family-friendly, college themes spaces in schools and community centers. These spaces are called Our CASA, which stands for Communities Aspiring, Succeeding, and Achieving. The Our CASA Network was launched through a partnership between the University of Utah, the Salt Lake City School District, Google Fiber, A Capital City Education, and local school communities.

The partnership began four years ago at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE), a District charter school. With support from a graduate student at the U’s college of social work, students at SLCSE decorated a room near the school’s entrance with couches, tables, a microwave, and other amenities. They dubbed it the “College Lounge.” It was a comfortable, welcoming space where students could hang out and use a computer. It also featured college and career information, and was used by the school and its partners to offer workshops and support services for students considering post-secondary education.

Crowd gathered in Our CASA room for opening party
The opening party for the College Lounge at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education.

For the next few years SLCSE had the only college lounge in the district. Then Google Fiber’s “Fiber in the Community” came to Salt Lake City, looking to support computer access and digital literacy on the west side. Google Fiber gave a generous donation to UNP to furnish a whole network of college lounges. Committees — made up of students, parents, and school staff — were formed at six sites to design college lounges, decide how to spend the money, and plan the kind of activities they would like to see in the spaces. It was a student on one of these committees at West High School who suggested the name change to “Our CASA” (Our House). The committee liked how the name bridges languages, just as the rooms will bridge communities, and how it communicates a sense of both ownership and welcome.

Our CASA spaces have already opened (or reopened) at West High School and SLCSE. In the coming two months, Our CASAs will open at Backman Elementary School, Northwest Middle School, and the UNP-Hartland Partnership Center. Each Our CASA will be different, based on the particular needs and opportunities at each site. The overarching goal is to build a culture in our schools and community centers that welcomes families,  honors the diverse cultures youth and adults bring with them, and fosters aspirations and supports preparation for higher education.

Opening the Our CASA spaces is just the beginning. Parents, students, educators, higher ed institutions, and community partners continue to collaborate in order to bring the rooms to life. If you stop by an Our CASA, you may find any of a number of activities going on, including:

  • Adult education classes
  • Opportunities to develop digital literacy skills
  • Parent-led meetings and events
  • Visits from college representatives
  • Online learning opportunities
  • Drop-in times for one-on-one counseling and support
  • Computers, printers and other technological resources
  • After school youth and family programming

Our CASA is an invitation to all our students and families to take the next step in their educational journeys, knowing that the community is there for them. For more information, or to get connected to an Our CASA near you, contact Paul Kuttner at University Neighborhood Partners.