MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Washington, June 12, 2022 – When Belen Robasti immigrated to the United States in 2013 from her home country of Argentina, she was overcome with culture shock. She didn’t speak a word of English, she was 7,000 miles away from her family, and she didn’t know where to turn to find the resources to settle into her new life here in the Pacific Northwest.
This is one of the reasons she has focused her efforts on helping immigrants as Family Resource Advocate at Cedar Way Elementary School“I’ve been there. I’ve been in a country where I didn’t know anything and couldn’t speak the language,” Robasti told the Lynnwood Times. “I can’t imagine being in my role just as a ‘English-speaker.”
Robasti is just one of four family resource advocates working in the Edmonds School Districtwith Rashanah Botley at Beverly Elementary SchoolAngela Garrido at Cedar Valley Community School and Carmen Zaranda at College Place Elementary School. Together, these advocates play a huge role in their schools helping children and their families struggling with poverty, homelessness and other needs.
Some of the services provided by Family Resource Advocates include housing, legal advice, child support, child development, food banks, transportation services, access to mental health and care resources health, parent support and skills building, helping families navigate the school system and access training and education.
Edmonds School District has a diverse student body consisting of 49% white, 20% Hispanic/Latino, 13% Asian, 10% multiracial, 6% black, 0.8% Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders and 0.5% American or Alaskan Indian. Indigenous students speaking over 115 languages.
Diverse demographics, especially income, led the district to seek culturally responsible ways to support families hiring their first student support advocate in 2017, initially at Lynnwood High School. The value of the Student Support Advocate role was quickly realized and the grants awarded expanded the program to three additional Advocate positions. With support from Snohomish County and Verdant Health Commission there is now a team of nine student support advocates in each of the middle and high schools in the district.
The district’s unique position to serve different cities and populations has created a high need for availability of case management support in schools as more and more families face housing, medical, mental health crises and emergencies look to them for resources. Most of them being bicultural and/or bilingual, they also actively enforce the district’s Racial Equity Policing and Family Engagement Policy.
“It’s great and very rewarding work and I love it,” Robasti told the Lynnwood Times. “That’s all I wanted to do because I love psychology and I love the social part like helping families.”
Robasti holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and has been involved in nonprofit social work since moving to the United States. When she changed jobs for a bilingual Kinder program, she fell in love with the school system and jumped at the chance to become a family resource attorney for the Edmonds School District to simultaneously carry out social work. and student needs.
“Our work would not be done on its own, it would not be possible to do without the help of our partners at Verdant and the Foundationsaid Robasti.
During the pandemic, when children were attending virtual classes and unable to take advantage of the food program, the Foundation began delivering food to their households on Thursdays and Fridays, including fresh fruit, ramen noodles, rice, pasta, pasta sauce and granola bars. Prior to the pre-pandemic period, they served around ten families and now serve up to 35 families.
Currently, over 400 students receive weekly meal kits prepared by the District’s Department of Food and Nutrition Services. These meal kits are delivered to families by the Foundation, which coordinates with a group of volunteers. Over 90% of these families were referred by the Family Support Team.
The Family Resource program, through a partnership with Comcastalso helped install internet services for low-income families so students could take classes remotely.
“[After the pandemic] a lot of the technology had to change, we had to teach them how to use a computer,” Robasti said.
Due to social distancing guidelines, Comcast technicians were unable to install the routers. Robasti made home visits personally to help families set up internet service, which in many ways helped her better understand her students.
“We actually got to know the families better because usually the families come to you but it’s not the same to go into their environment and their space and see how they live. I feel like we’ve bonded much closer with the families,” Robasti said. “It was hard but it was a good way to get closer.”
Robasti has now focused his efforts on refugees from Afghanistan. She and her organization provide families with school supplies, free breakfast and lunch, and help with registration for Edmonds College classes for shelters to learn English.
“Parents are really excited about the change and all the opportunities they have here,” Robasti said. “A lot of times they ask how much I owe you and I don’t say anything, these are services we provide.”