Education, workforce development roundtable held in Mesa

By Sienna Martinez, Arizona State University journalism student

Mesa educators, business leaders and city council members endorsed a community literacy initiative to ensure children are prepared for kindergarten at a Sept. 14 Education and Workforce Development Roundtable.

Members of Mesa Public Schools proposed three strategic focus areas to be discussed during the meeting including early learning through high school, post-secondary and workforce development.

Members of Mesa City Council were informed of the highest priorities that will strengthen and align Mesa education and workforce development, particularly for the Mesa K-Ready Program.

Mesa K-Ready is a family engagement program that uses a combination of academic lessons, fun learning activities and family support to help Mesa parents and their 3- and 4-year-olds prepare for kindergarten, according to the Mesa K-Ready website, mpsaz.org/mkr.

The parents are in the classroom learning alongside their children on how to be their children’s best teachers.

“We also want to empower parents to be self-sufficient,” said Jacqueline Thatcher, family and community engagement supervisor of Mesa Public Schools, “It’s about investigated learning, nurturing math skill development, promoting language and literacy, and building social and emotional foundations. .”

The goal of Mesa K-Ready is to increase family and parent confidence not only in educating their children and advocating for them but also in becoming self-sufficient and productive citizens.

The program plans to collaborate with its partners in Queen Creek and Gilbert who have also served the city of Mesa and Mesa Public Schools students to extend their program and replicate it in other school districts, Thatcher said.

The collaboration relies heavily on grant funding provided by the John Whiteman Foundation and Mesa Public Schools to keep the program running.

With a yearly operating budget of around $130,000, the program draws concerns.

Thatcher emphasized that a lack of partnerships and funding would require the program to limit the number of students based on the inability to hire additional teachers.

“We certainly have a need for our adults to continue to provide resources while connecting them to workforce opportunities; and with this program, we have a specific group of people who have been proactive in pursuing educational opportunities for their kids,” said Sarah Tolar, education and workforce administrator for the city of Mesa.

Along with providing resources for the parents and the families by making sure that they understand how they can get involved in partnering in their child’s education, the Mesa K-Ready program provides access to unlimited diversity strategies for students.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, research shows that children entering kindergarten without the skills they need to succeed in school rarely read proficiently by third grade.

Tolar said that the Mesa K-Ready program sees a need to partner with the roundtable to provide strategic planning and alignment to help address literacy proficiency rates citywide and statewide.

“Literacy is absolutely crucial to any kind of workforce development. To me, this one jumps out big time,” Mesa City Councilmember Julie Spilsbury said. “This is where it becomes really impactful, where powerful partnerships come in.”

The roundtable will move forward with its three approved projects — the Mesa K-Ready, Mesa College Promise and Workforce Alignment —in its next meeting 1:30-3:30 pm Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Mesa Fire & Medical Admin Building’s. Coyote Room, 708 W. Baseline Road in Mesa. The meeting of the Education and Workforce Development Roundtable will be open to the public to attend and observe.

Go to mesaaz.gov/government/advisory-boards-committees/education-and-workforce-development-roundtable.

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