Children of the Valley Program
Expanding to Burlington, Sedro-Woolley
BY: KERA WANIELISTA
PHOTOS BY: OLIVER HAMLIN
MOUNT VERNON — Flora Perez-Lucatero’s dream is coming true.
Sixteen years ago, when Perez-Lucatero established the Children of the Valley after-school program in Mount Vernon to help children in need, she hoped one day she could expand it countywide.
“The expansion piece has always been a dream,” Perez-Lucatero said.
While the organization has long partnered with the Mount Vernon School District, it is growing to serve students in the Burlington-Edison School District.
“Children of the Valley will fill a crucial need for many of our families by providing continued learning, enrichment and support for students,” Burlington-Edison School District Superintendent Laurel Browning said. “Particularly for our students in need, Children of the Valley is a proven partner with school districts in Skagit County. We look forward to seeing this program come to fruition in Burlington.”
The organization is also planning to expand to serve students in the Sedro-Woolley School District.
“Children of the Valley is a proven after-school program for students living in poverty,” said Sedro-Woolley School District Assistant Superintendent Mike Olson. “Students receive homework support, learn life skills such as cooking and baking, have the opportunity to be mentored by older students and enjoy many enrichment programs that we cannot always provide at school.”
Children of the Valley’s Mount Vernon program serves about 40 kids from each of the district’s six elementary schools.
“We want to serve kids the most in need — the most under-resourced kids,” Perez-Lucatero said.
That need became especially clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. The organization doubled its service hours and the number of children it serves.
“The need was exposed,” Perez-Lucatero said. “ … The Mount Vernon School District leaned on us to fill this need.”
While the organization has a long-standing partnership with the district, that relationship grew during the pandemic, with the district allowing the organization to use space at the high school then Centennial Elementary School, which were empty due to the move to online learning.
In addition to expanding into two other school districts, the program will expand in the Mount Vernon School District, taking the temporary COVID-19 location at Centennial Elementary School and, in partnership with the Skagit Valley Family YMCA, make it a permanent location.
“That temporary need last year grew into now a continued opportunity,” Perez-Lucatero said.
In addition, the program will also have a presence at Washington Elementary School, she said.
“We will fill those very quickly and most likely have a wait list,” Perez-Lucatero said.
During the pandemic, other districts took notice of the partnership and reached out to find ways they and the organization could help each other, Perez-Lucatero said.
The Burlington-Edison School District will help support Children of the Valley’s Burlington program with a portion of its federal COVID-19 relief funds, a portion of which are required to be used to address learning loss experienced by students during the pandemic.
“This is an opportunity to partner with an organization that will provide extended learning opportunities for our students. It certainly fills a need,” said Todd Setterlund, the Burlington-Edison School District’s executive director of teaching, learning and communications.
In partnership with Christ the King Church in Burlington, the district and the after-school program are expecting to serve about 40 elementary school-age children from the district, Setterlund said.
In partnership with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, about 60 elementary school students will be served through the Children of the Valley expansion in Sedro-Woolley, Olson said.
While the districts will contribute financially, much of the funding for the Children of the Valley program comes from community donations, Perez-Lucatero said.
“That’s what’s amazing is to see it be a community program,” she said.