by M. Anthony Davis
The Renton Innovation Zone Partnership (RIZP) has emerged as an amazing community collective that works to support families in Skyway, West Hill, and the Renton Highlands with basic needs, early learning opportunities, and community and family engagement resources.
RIZP started in 2017 when Renton School District Superintendent Dr. Damien Pattenaude began looking for community involvement to help support students living within the Renton Innovation Zone, where 5,023 students currently live.
“He [Dr. Pattenaude], along with a couple other organizations, convened a bunch of providers, nonprofits, and city government, and was like, ‘schools can’t do it alone,’” said Ryan Quigtar, Executive Director of RIZP. Quigtar is excited about the prospective partnership, but acknowledged that partnerships like this have been tried in the past.
“I think this was a moment where it made sense to partner, and folx all felt the same way. There were some shared goals identified and there was also some funding opportunities coming down the pike, and folks wanted to be prepared to take advantage of that and get some resources in the community.”
Getting resources into the community has been what RIZP does best. The four schools that RIZP directly serves — Lakeridge Elementary, Bryn Mawr Elementary, Campbell Hill Elementary, and Highlands Elementary — are all Title I schools, which means their student body has a high population of low-income families. RIZP has worked with their partners to directly address the need for additional resources and support to these students.
“We have three different action teams,” explained Jasmine Raelynn, RIZP Assistant Director of Communications and Development. “We have a Community and Family Engagement Action Team. We have a Basic Needs Action Team, and an Early Learning Action Team. The teams meet once a month, and they’re composed of several different community-based organizations, community volunteers as well as ourselves, and they lead the work.”
Before COVID, RIZP’s funders had specific academic goals in place to guide the work and ensure students received positive outcomes. The goals include:
- 78% of children will be academically, physically, socially, and emotionally ready for kindergarten
- 74% of third graders will meet English language arts proficiency targets
- 74% of fourth graders will meet mathematics proficiency targets
While these goals are intended to guide RIZP and push students toward academic achievement, Quigtar has some reservations about the specific targets. “One of the reasons why I don’t think we should focus on these goals, is the focus on standardized testing. And given the impact of COVID, those tests didn’t happen this year.”
Negative impacts of standardized tests on non-white students has been well documented. In the Renton Innovation Zone, 41% of students live in households where English is not the primary language. At Campbell Hill Elementary, for example, 39% of students are African American, 23% of students are Asian American, and 21% of students are Hispanic. Quigtar recognizes that because of the known bias in standardized testing, funders holding organizations like RIZP to goals linked to scores on standardized tests may be a practice that can be reassessed and changed in the future. But for now, RIZP continues to push forward and support their schools and communities in the wake of COVID.
When asked about RIZP’s response to COVID, Raelynn responded, “It made all of our community partners and ourselves be more transparent in the needs of our families, and it made our families more transparent [about] what they need.” One of these needs was academic. RIZP worked with Renton School District to help set up virtual kindergarten registration. However, due to the novel coronavirus, RIZP has shifted the majority of their focus away from academics and steered toward family and community engagement.
One major way RIZP has pivoted to support their communities is by starting a series of food pantries in Renton and Skyway. These pantries, which occur every Tuesday and Saturday, provide residents in the RIZ with free essentials such as food, masks, and diapers. In some cases, these pantries have encouraged communities to come together and even led to new volunteers joining RIZP.
“I met a dude,” Quigtar says of one of the residents. “He came by and he got a couple boxes of food. And then he came back and I was like, ‘Oh, he might be coming back for more,’ but he actually has some people in his car with him. And he brought a couple of neighbors to get some food as well because the complex is kind of big and the boxes are kind of heavy.”
The man Quigtar spoke of signed up to be a volunteer and now assists at the Tuesday pantries. The success of the food pantries, and the involvement of the community, led RIZP to the idea of their next event, which will be a summer kick-off.
“You will drive your car through a big parking lot,” Raelynn explained. “There’ll be different stations, and at each station, you can pick up a different resource. There [will] also be some takeaways and some swag bags. We also work with community based organizations that have helped to produce outdoor STEM kits and indoor STEM kits so kids can do some math and STEM activities inside the house with everyday items like water bottles or a magnifying glass.”
RIZP has put forth tremendous effort to support their community. As Quigtar points out, this community has high levels of poverty, high crime rates, gun violence, and a lack of government investment. RIZP works to support not only the academic needs of students, but they address basic student needs such as nutrition, school supplies, and free after-school STREAM (Science, Technology, Recreation, Environment, Art, and Math) programs. In only two years of service, RIZP has made a major impact on their community and they are poised to continue this great work in the future.
Summer Curbside Resource Fair
Saturday, July 11, 2020 — 1–4 p.m.
Renton Memorial Stadium
405 Logan Avenue North
Renton, WA 98057
COVID testing will also be available. For more information or to be a vendor or volunteer, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured image: Renton Innovation Zone Food Bank at New Birth Ministries (Photo: Jasmine Raelynn)