United Way CEO Lindsay Callahan, Fresno State’s “First Lady” Mary Castro, Martin Luther King Middle School (MLK) Principal Noel Jimenez with MLK students.

United Way Partnership


By Dr. Rebecca Malmo, Executive Director of Student and Family Support Services

THE MADERA UNIFIED School District is fortunate to partner with the United Way of Fresno and Madera Counties in several areas that benefit our community and our schools, in “Madera United,” as United Way CEO Lindsay Callahan likes to say. United Way is an international organization focused on creating community-based and community-led solutions that strengthen the cornerstones for a good quality of life: education, financial stability and health. While Madera Unified and United Way are very different organizations with very different missions, we share a common vision to build a healthy and prosperous Madera for all residents.

United Way’s contributions in Madera have included the 2017 “More than a Backpack” partnership with Fresno State, where backpacks were provided for one entire 7th grade class at MLK. These backpacks also contained school supplies and a personally signed letter from Fresno State President Castro promising a full ride scholarship to one, then 7th grader, in the class of 2022 who submits a yearly essay outlining their aspirations and, of course, featuring their boldness. “We are going to determine who gets the scholarship based on their growth over the next six years. We will see what happens when we give students more than just a backpack,” Callahan said. The scholarship will be funded by United Way. 

United Way is also collaborating with the Department of Community Services and Parent Resource Centers, the Franchise Tax Board, and California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEIT). These partners have united to execute a statewide campaign to provide free tax preparation services as well as outreach and education to low and moderate-income populations in Madera County. United Way has been the leading organization in bringing free tax preparation services to Fresno and Madera Counties for the last 14 years. This ongoing support will allow more individuals and families to receive the much-needed free tax preparation services. 

One of our newest partnerships with United Way is focused on further uplifting Madera Unified by launching a social emotional learning initiative for staff in select pilot schools. Madera Unified has undertaken a district-wide roll-out of new social emotional learning curriculum for our K-8 students this year titled Second Step. PBIS, Safe School Ambassadors, and digital school safety applications such as STOPit and Titan have also made a difference in the culture and climate at our schools. We have also provided site-based behavioral health counselors and connected some students with higher levels of care when needed. 

This newest United Way partnership will expand our current social emotional work to include our staff, with the long-term goal to build a foundation to promote self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationships and responsible decision-making skills to improve the educational experience for our students as reflected in more positive social behaviors and peer relationships, fewer conduct problems, less emotional distress and improved academic outcomes. We believe that an investment in this work will result in happier and more resilient teachers who will foster a better school climate focused on student and staff well-being, engagement and learning.

A report released earlier this year from the national Social Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD) commission, convened by the Aspen Institute, illuminates what brain science has confirmed, and what good educators instinctively know: that learning does not happen without emotional connection. The presence of relationships, educators and students knowing one another, is a critical ingredient in learning and development. The research also confirms that social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and social awareness are key to academic learning as they are to life and career skills. The SEAD commission also affirms the importance of placing a great deal of emphasis on the adults in the education system, so that they can learn and model effective social and emotional competencies. 

United Way has facilitated funding that will provide Madera Unified with consultation, technical assistance and support from social emotional experts, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and Partnership for Children and Youth (PYC) to expand the current student focused social emotional learning to include staff members. Utilizing the research-based CASEL approach, a group of educators will work to engage in their own social emotional learning (reflecting on personal social and emotional competencies), collaborate on strategies for promoting social emotional learning, such as establish peer learning structure to hone social emotional strategies, and model social emotional learning by implementing practices with peers. This group will work on relationship building, developing a shared language and goals, and supporting one another with problems of practice. Work can be focused on CASEL’s 3 Signature Practices: 1) Welcoming inclusion activities, 2) Engaging strategies, 3) Optimistic closure. Depending on the direction of the group, additional training on the Mills Teacher Scholar course “Creating the Conditions for Adult Learning” will also be offered. The course includes the awareness of the mindsets that support teacher-led collaborative learning and an overview of the practices for creating the conditions for adult learning.

The participating teachers and staff from the schools will utilize existing professional learning communities to enable peer sharing and continuous improvement that will be supported by an expert facilitator who can keep the work on track and help coordinate a district team. The facilitation will focus on ensuring a forward moving process that brings appropriate outside resources and expertise, but heavily draws upon the expertise in the room of teachers and other school staff to build their capacity and leadership. 

A district-level social emotional team will also be established and will be responsible for designing systems and structures needed to support the school-level work and identify planning and implementation tools that can be used across sites in the district. This team’s work, to establish systems and tools, is important not just for this initial phase, but to sustain the work and ensure it will be successful over time, and withstand administrator turnover.

One of our newest partnerships with United Way is focused on further uplifting Madera Unified by launching a social-emotional learning initiative for staff in select pilot schools.


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