Family & Youth Specialist: T.O. Smith Elementary

Within the boundaries of the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood, T.O. Smith Elementary School serves a much higher than average number of low-income students. United Way of Northern Utah recently placed a full-time Family & Youth Specialist in the school through the Utah Partnership For Student Success Grant.

Tanner has been working at T.O. Smith since spring of 2017. His primary function is to be a resource in the school, connecting families to community resources that will help them and their students achieve success. For the students, that means programs to boost attendance, teach healthy habits, and provide after school activities and tutoring. Parents often need help organizing finances, building resumes, or maximizing tax benefits.

Tanner explains that “a lot of times they’re not able to find those resources, so I’m bringing the resources to the school and getting them to the families within the community, making sure everyone’s taken care of.” He works closely with teachers and administrators, who refer students and families to him when they see unmet needs. This year, for the first time, he has also invited close to a dozen local agencies to the school’s Back to School night, so families can get help and find opportunities right at the school.

Another focus at the school has been helping kindergarteners come to school regularly. Attendance is often a problem since kindergarten isn’t mandatory, but Tanner said, “when they miss a lot of school, it puts them behind pretty quickly.” He began an incentive program, where a full week of attendance at school would earn the kids a reward such as a bubble dance party, chalk art outside, or free recess. “Between the program’s first week and third week, absences were cut in half—we had half as many kids leaving because they were just excited to come to school,” he said. This starts a habit of good attendance that will become more important as they progress in school.

Other programs work to educate the entire family on healthy habits, family relationships, and finances. In the coming school year, Tanner will help organize monthly family nights. Activities will range from fun game nights to classes on finances and cooking. He has also worked with students from Utah State University to provide in-classroom instruction on healthy eating and hygiene, and they will expand those classes to all students in the coming year. 

Tanner’s goal, aligned with the Ogden United Promise Neighborhood, is to “get the family working together on anything, whether it’s at the school, bringing them to activities, helping them spend time together. I think a lot of needs will solve themselves.” A key to this is strengthening family relationships, so students and parents work together for the success of the child. Tanner hopes to help the community “see the school as a center for them to always go to for whatever needs they have.” Bringing all these partners together (families, school, and local agencies), United Way of Northern Utah and Ogden United Promise Neighborhood are working to give every child their best chance at success.