Schools prepare for children of Passage Point residents
February 22, 2011
By Laura Geggel
With the YWCA’s Passage Point scheduled to open in June, its neighbors in the southern part of the Issaquah School District are working to learn as much as they can about the facility before its inaugural day.
About 10 people came to the YWCA Passage Point Community Open House Feb. 9 at Maple Hills Elementary School, some carrying lists of questions they could ask YWCA representatives, King County project managers and school district administrators.
Passage Point allows the YWCA to provide housing for men and women recently released from incarceration who wish to reunite with their children. The residents of Passage Point will have access to housing, employment and counseling services.
“It’s going to be geared toward a certain population that wants to change,” YWCA Case Manager Miesha Phillips said.
She and other administrators answered questions about Passage Point’s rules and services.
Deena Rataezyk learned that any Passage Point residents who register to volunteer with the district will have to go through a standard Washington State Patrol background check.
Nick LaCaze asked if teachers were ready to teach children living at Passage Point, given that some of them might need extra support at school, and Rataezyk asked if the schools would have additional mental health resources.
“It’s just trying to find out what’s coming our way,” LaCaze said.
“What is going on in their homes is going to come to school, and what happens at school is going to come to my house,” Rataezyk said, adding she didn’t want to sound callus, but she wanted to know how the district was preparing for Passage Point’s opening.
Jodi Bongard, Issaquah School District executive director of elementary schools, and Maple Hills Principal Monique Beane answered their questions.
Passage Point would provide counselors for its residents, Bongard said. Teachers and counselors were already trained to handle children with different types of capacities, Beane said, adding that school staff members will learn more about Passage Point as its opening date nears.
Each school that children from Passage Point would attend has room for more students. Maple Hills Elementary School has 359 students, but has room for 496; Maywood Middle School has 881 students, with room for 946; and Liberty High School has 1,166 students and space for 1,184, with room for an additional 200-250 students after its remodel.
With room at each school, it is unlikely any school would need more portable classrooms simply because of the children from Passage Point, district Chief of Finance and Operation Jake Kuper said.
Beane said she looked forward to working with Passage Point families.
“How can you not be excited about changing their lives?” Beane asked.
Community members spent most of the meeting learning about Passage Point’s logistics.
They learned that violent offenders or people convicted of crimes against children will not be allowed to stay at Passage Point.
Most parents at Passage Point will have offenses on the scale of forgery and drug possession. Residents must also be homeless at the time of intake. If they are married, their spouse can stay with them only if the spouse is also in the program, YWCA Program Manager Pamela Elessa said.
While the residents were in prison or jail, their children were likely staying with relatives or in foster care. But just because the parent is out of jail does not mean reunification.
“If the children are doing well, we’re not going to disrupt them,” Elessa said.
Residents will come to Passage Point in waves, with small groups entering the facility every few months.
“We find when people are released from jail or prison, they’re quite motivated and you need to get them in that first 90 days,” Mike Schwartz, of YWCA programs, said.
While there is no volunteer program set up yet, the YWCA may invite the community to share a skill, such as knitting or cooking, with its residents once the program is more established, Elessa said.
“We want to be collaborative. We don’t want to be separate,” she said.
Community members concerned about security learned a housing director would be onsite 24 hours a day and no overnight visitors would be allowed.
The district plans to hold a question-and-answer session about Passage Point this spring for those who missed the open house.
Now and then
The Passage Point opening has been years in the making. Originally, the county used the building for the Cedar Hills Alcohol Treatment Center. The center closed in 2002 when it became too expensive to run, according to Cheryl Markham, program manager of King County Housing and Community Development Program.
The county planned to reopen the building for newly released inmates hoping to reunite with their children, offered a grant for someone to run the project and awarded it to the YWCA.
Neighbors near the site formed the Cedar Hills Rural Preservation Alliance and sued the county in Snohomish County Superior Court in 2007, saying the county did not have the right permit to open the facility, among other issues.
The alliance won the case, but did not have enough money to pursue it when the county appealed the decision. The two sides reached a settlement in 2010.
“We turned our attention after the settlement agreement to making this work,” alliance President Sean Kronberg said. Now, “We need to support it. We need to find ways to make it succeed.”
Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.