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Vaughn Street Bonanza : School Receives Grant of $321,120 to Help It Build Innovative Program

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Fernando elementary school, struggling to make its campus a community nexus, received a $321,120 grant toward that goal Tuesday from the RJR Nabisco Foundation.

Vaughn Street Elementary was the only school in the Los Angeles area and one of 14 from throughout the nation to receive a grant, which Nabisco offered to help elementary and secondary public schools raise student achievement.

“It’s trying to touch off a wave of reform one school at a time,” said David Sandor, spokesman for the Washington-based foundation’s Next Century Schools program, which has committed $30 million to public school reform efforts since 1989.

“It’s a venture capital approach that invests in sometimes risky programs in the hope they’ll pay off big dividends in improved student achievement down the road,” Sandor said.

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More than 1,000 schools competed for the grants by submitting proposals to improve student performance, increase community support and provide examples to other campuses interested in change, Sandor said. Each of the grants--which were as high as $750,000--will be given out over a three-year period, with schools receiving the first installment by this fall.

Vaughn Street won the special funding by detailing its innovative efforts to transform its 1,068-student campus, located in a low-income, immigrant neighborhood, into a unique community center where parents can go for counseling and assistance and students receive medical care as well as school lessons.

“The bottom line of what we told Nabisco is, we’ll do it with or without you,” said Vaughn Street Principal Yvonne Chan, whose school has created a social services center on campus and works with local businesses to provide incentives to students. “With you, we’ll do it a little sooner.”

The money will help the school implement a 13-step plan devised by faculty and community members that includes developing innovative teaching techniques, establishing an outreach program for preschoolers and helping youths considered at risk of becoming dropouts, Chan said.

The grant will also assist in paying for necessities that some of Vaughn Street’s children are unable to get at home, Chan said. The school hopes to purchase a portable shower so homeless students will be able to bathe and a portable washer and dryer to wash the clothes of children whose homes have no running water.

Chan said the school also plans to lease a bus so that more students can go on field trips, especially excursions that expand their knowledge about future careers. Now, Chan said, one field trip for one class a year is all the school’s budget will allow.

“If you can come up with good, concrete ideas, and if you’re willing to do the groundwork. . . it’s inconceivable you cannot educate and bring these kids up to par. That’s the dream,” she said.


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