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July 26, 2021

Extended Learning Program dishes thousands of bags to area students

WATSONVILLE—A huge program is underway in Watsonville to help keep students finely tuned and focused on education through the summer.

Jen Bruno, a curriculum coach, said the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Extended Learning Programs (ELP) over the past few weeks has loaded more than 4,000 new backpacks with around 5,000 hands-on literacy and science kits and other school supplies. They hope those supplies encourage area students, through K-8 Distance Learning, to roll up their sleeves and jump into a wealth of learning exercises during the ongoing Covid-19 closures.

“I’m so excited about this program and the many workshops,” Bruno said. “I really couldn’t be doing a better thing with my summer. I’ve never been a part of something so big.”

Extended Learning worked with community experts to develop lessons and activities for students to have access to quality online learning opportunities this summer.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) lessons include science, coding, visual arts, music, drama, fitness, nutrition and more. 

That program, which also features virtual camps and field trips, is free.

The programs—funded by grants from After School Education and Safety (ASES) and 21st Century—are powered by the City of Watsonville, the city’s Science Workshop, the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the Code Naturally Academy of Santa Cruz. 

They include 15 lessons per week that are structured to be family-friendly and inclusive and utilize PVUSD-issued Chromebooks.

“I get it as far as family learning goes,” Bruno said. “I have four kids of my own; I know how to work alongside these families.”

Available to roughly 13,000 students, the program continues through July 30 and is geared for students to learn at their own pace in English and Spanish, Bruno said.

Sharon Sanchez, a first-year kindergarten and bilingual teacher at Mintie White Elementary School, was one of several who waited patiently during Tuesday’s drive-thru pick-up at Watsonville High School—the program’s staging ground. 

She picked up 13 bags, 10 for her kindergarten students and another three for some of their siblings because their parents were busy working. She said the hands-on activities included in the bags will help keep her students busy and are a good alternative for families that are not able to access online lesson plans.

“Yes we did try to implement distance learning but for a lot of families, especially my families, they can’t access that technology,” she said. “For the kids that don’t have summer school, this is a great way to keep busy and keep learning during the summer.” 

Bruno said the distribution was largely completed Tuesday.

“Though we weren’t supposed to open the line until 11:30, we had a line at 9am that was two cars wide all the way to the pool area,” Bruno said.

Youth N.O.W., Watsonville’s Police Activities League and the YMCA played a role in getting backpacks out to students. Bruno said some of the remaining backpacks will be driven directly to agricultural working families.

“I really want every student to get a kit,” she said. “This is about equity.”

For the past 13 years Bruno has headed up Fitness 4 Life, an after school fitness program for around 4,000 PVUSD students, grades 2-8, annually. Staff from F4L also came on board to assist the ELP, Bruno said.

“Truly, the 14 staff who worked alongside me creating these kits for weeks made this project such a success,” she said. “They helped create the website, passed out kits for hours day after day, called homes, made dump runs, unloaded 93 pallets of supplies, organized all the paperwork, and drove the kits to families that couldn’t pick-up. This miracle team gave their hearts to create these kits to ensure PVUSD students could have a memorable experience during this pandemic.” 


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