Marana Cares Mobile

The Marana Cares Mobile delivers free food to students throughout the community, and is one of the many programs the Marana Unified School District employs to better achieve student equity.

It is not uncommon for Marana school counselors to receive calls from crying parents. However, more and more of the calls are coming from places of gratitude, rather than concern. 

These positive changes stem from the Marana Unified School District’s multiple student support programs, all critical for a community where roughly 47 percent of students live at or below the poverty line. Unfortunately, funding for these programs may be in jeopardy. 

“Our main goal is to bridge those barriers to success for students.” said Cindy Ruich, MUSD director of student services, at the Marana Partners in Education Luncheon on Jan. 16.

“We’re lucky we have a superintendent that really believes in supporting the whole student, not just the academics.” 

The district recently made five commitments to its community, restated at the luncheon: Strong relationships, equity, collaboration, innovation and deeper learning. The goal of equity runs through all MUSD student support programs, such as the mobile food bus that’s served more than 9,000 free meals since 2016, the family resource and counseling centers or the deployment of 16,000 digital devices for in-class learning. 

Marana educators like Ruich hope to remove the stigma of receiving financial assistance from schools, and do so by creating equal opportunities for all students to receive support. 

“I was truly humbled to hear from our secondary students, they appreciated that everyone had the same devices,” Ruich said. “They all had the same educational tools.” 

Many of these school support programs are funded from a Climate Transformation Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2014, the Department of Education awarded more than $70 million to 130 grantees in 38 states, in an effort to make schools safer, reduce gun violence and increase mental-health services. 

Among grantees was the Marana Unified School District, which earned over $750,000 in annual funding. The School Climate Transformation grants were intended to “develop, enhance, or expand statewide systems of support for, and technical assistance to, school districts.” However, the Climate Transformation Grants are only set to last five years, and MUSD’s will end Sept. 30 of this year.

In response to this possible upcoming decrease in funding, MUSD is setting out to share the success stories of their programs, both to accrue new investors and to inform the at-need public that the programs exist for students. 

“We are always looking for additional community involvement, to sustain the programs funded from the grant,” said MUSD assistant superintendent Kristin Reidy.

While the School Climate Transformation grant does not fund all of MUSD’s support programs, it funds multiple, including the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program, technical assistance programs and other counseling systems.

Even with the grant, MUSD student support programs can often face funding difficulties, such as their supplemental food programs, which have gone $100,000 over budget in the past. Rather than cutting off free meals for impoverished students, MUSD transfers funds from elsewhere in their financial system.

“There are other school districts that choose not to feed kids when there isn’t money left in their programs,” Reidy said. “And we just can’t do that.” 

MUSD student services even give free meals to students outside of school hours with their “Power Pack” program, a service that offers packaged food for students during weekends and holiday breaks. Currently, 192 students are on the power pack program, costing 150 dollars per student. 

“Students still get hungry during the summer,” Reidy said. “It’s important to know that our students who are in poverty, their needs to don’t change away from school.” 

The community has, in turn, supported MUSD schools and students with programs such as Shop with a Volunteer Cop, where impoverished students receive new clothes.

“We do not have the funding we need to get our kids what they deserve,” Ruich said. “So we just collaborate with every part of the community we can.” 

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