Rural Perspectives from Tehama County, California

January 31, 2019 |

Expect More Tehama (EMT) is a community movement based out of Tehama County, California. Founded in 2010, EMT aims to raise the bar of expectations of what rural communities can achieve by enhancing awareness and providing options for higher education and careers.

We are pleased to interview and share perspectives on rural community engagement from two EMT Team leaders: Kathy Garcia, Founder and current Coordinator of EMT, and Heidi Mendenhall:

What is EMT?

The official NEW description is: Expect More Tehama is a broad range of community members engaged in a movement to address local issues in education by convening people, fostering relationships and discovering community together. We promote educational equity, economic prosperity and lasting growth.

Kathy Garcia: We are a group that encourages the community to come alongside education as a partner to create positive change in our community.

Heidi Mendenhall: We are a group who values the amazing people with great expertise and talents in our community and wants to support time and energy for these folks to come together to support the community grow. Of course, we have a focus on education and young people but really it all flows up!

What inspired you to start EMT?

Kathy Garcia: Some funding was available to support education and a small group met at Starbucks to talk about where best to spend it. Mentoring? After school programs? Equipment? The conversation quickly became focused on why more of our high school students weren’t going on to some form of higher education. We decided do some research regarding the real numbers, and to ask more people why they had or hadn’t gone on to college. Those who had attended college most often said they were “expected to”. Many who had not attended were often “not expected to.”An expectation is a hope, and we seemed to be running low in that area. We held more meetings and more conversations, and everyone wanted to talk about it, so we planned a large-scale event to bring all stakeholders together for a day. It was a very carefully designed day that promised action, not a plan on a shelf. Also, we weren’t as interested in debating or getting upset about numbers. We just wanted to know where we stood so we knew where we could help.

Heidi Mendenhall: It is also valuable to consider what inspires us all to continue the work. And this answer is different for all of us-however I believe I speak for every member when we say that a true love of community is a part of each of our inspiration.

What areas does EMT focus on?

Kathy Garcia: Expect More focuses on six areas that represent birth to career. Each year we publish a report that tracks measurements within each area to see how we (community) are doing. We also showcase great examples of work in each area that great organization, schools, individuals are spearheading.

Kathy Garcia: Expect More’s focus changes. We started out quite naïve in 2009. Then, we were excited about working with middle schools to introduce younger students to the word “college”. Administrators at that level were enthusiastic, so we organized workshops, trips to colleges, leadership conferences and college t-shirt collection and giveaways. Today, our focus is on leadership development, summer programming, working with our local university on growing our own future teachers and becoming more strategic. We’ve always focused on relationships and the power of coming together.

Heidi Mendenhall: We are data driven-we look at data and we want to effect change. So as different data both quantitative and qualitative surface we are able to move with the information.However, this movement always includes using our unique community composition to support education (teachers, family and children).

EMT believes in Education and Collaboration between community members to achieve big goals. How did EMT manage to employ both education and the community to support its mission in allowing higher expectations for higher education and career readiness?

Kathy Garcia: There are advantages to being rural. In our case, we have just 68,000+ people in the county. The few of us who first came together knew a lot of different people. For our first convening, we carefully targeted 100+ in our community and personally asked them to be there. We knew we had one shot to grab their attention, so we spent a lot of time on the design of the day. We sat people next to different stakeholders, so that government sat next to teachers and service club members and business owners. The buzz in the room was amazing.

Heidi Mendenhall: “know the best you can until you know better; then when you know better do better” this says it all for me. When we work in our silos we are not able to grow and know better so we do not do better. When we pull community, social justice and education together everyone is able to know better. And as for why start with education? Well, if you want to change the world help children, right?

How did the community help improve education at Tehama County?

Kathy Garcia: It’s not sexy or earth shattering, but they started talking. People were empowered to talk to kids in the neighborhood; to ask about classes; to see themselves as community educators. Some gathered books for community bookshelves. Others asked colleges for t-shirts. One mom helped start the leadership conference because it wasn’t cool for boys to be smart in 8th grade and she wanted to change that. Not everyone is an initiator, but some are. Others just started being aware and asking questions. On the data side, we were showing the community that the data was available and we had some work to do. Schools could not do it all alone.

Heidi Mendenhall: all of these “actions” really are evidence of a mental shift. Community leaders started thinking what can I do for education? Educators started thinking “how an I ask for help?”.In the very beginning the county superintendent of education started having coffee once a week with Expect More leaders and business women. These conversations offered time to think outside the box and learn from business. It is hard to quantify all the fall out that comes from this “permission” to think different, ask for help, and learn more.

Heidi Mendenhall: I remember one conversation when we were beginning to host a fall book festival. We had community members, librarians, teachers etc. At lunch we thought “what could we do to help get families excited about reading and have resources to read”. There was an initial negative energy and comments such as “they just won’t” “If they don’t get something out of it its too hard for them to come”.The beauty of having all members at that lunch table was instead of feeling defeated a local farmer said, “oh well, that is easy I can donate 200 pumpkins, we will just advertise if they read and come to our event, they will get a free pumpkin”. The answer was simple and successful that year we had 200 families come to the book festival, show they had read for an entire week with the child, receive family literacy resources, and of course take the coveted free -locally grown- pumpkin home!

How did education help improve the community at Tehama County?

Kathy Garcia: So much has happened since 2009. Much of the change is thanks to schools making huge changes in Career Technical Education, dual enrollment, positive school culture, trauma informed practices, better access to technology, stable funding (returning) and increased transparency. Today most of our schools are less islands in the community and are much more engaged with businesses, key industry leaders, higher education, service clubs, other schools, and community members. We still have challenges, but the changes have been amazing.

EMT acknowledges the challenges as well as the advantages of the small rural Tehama country.

  • What have been the hardest challenge in the early EMT work, how did the movement overcome it?

Kathy Garcia: Back then we were naïve about the challenges facing education. We thought if we made it easier to figure out the path to college, more kids would go. That sounds so simple now! It’s much more complicated than that. We had to learn about the realities of poverty, and of being rural.
I think finding good data was also a huge challenge back then. If we did land on good data, the testing model changed! Today we have technical staff to help find the best data, even for our rural areas.

  • What are the current challenges, and what plans are there to overcome these challenges?

Kathy Garcia: Time is always the challenge. Those involved have full time jobs and these are their passion projects. We have one person funded for one day per week, which is better than none at all! We have lost talent to great job opportunities in other areas (brain drain). We want change to happen more quickly than it does J We are also good at getting things done but weak in tracking our work. We have intentionally recruited local talent to work with us on setting up better systems so we can better tell our story!

  • What are the advantages Tehama County has that could not be found in an urban county?

Kathy Garcia: We have trust and relationships all over the place that expedite our work. I think larger areas have more hierarchies in place that make it more difficult to get things done. We have breakfast once a month with our Superintendent of Schools. We know the District Attorney and Juvenile Court Judge, City Managers and Chamber of Commerce directors. The relationships are so important to the work. But it’s manageable, given the size of the area.

  • What have been the most significant advantage that helped EMT in its early work?

Kathy Garcia: At the time, resources were limited for government, schools, and nonprofits, so everyone was interested in working together. There were good people eager to partner and try new things. And thanks to a few business partners, we had underwriting to host some great event

Tell us more about “We Own Summer”: Goals, activities, participation, evaluations, specific stories, future direction…

Kathy Garcia: When we became interested in third grade reading proficiency, we stumbled across a 60 Minutes segment that addressed the summer slide. It showed two kids, one from low socio-economic home and the other middle class, on a graph starting with kindergarten. They moved to depict one’s progress and one’s slide each summer. It convinced us that we had to do more in the summer when school is out. In the beginning we collected and distributed books at summer events. We hosted Movies in the Park and gave out books. Then we started a summer activity guide to show parents what low and no cost activities were in the county and how and when to register. Today, we invite all summer program hosts to a mapping session to plan for the guide and also discover and fill gaps. Last summer we were able to partner with others to bring a Children’s Theater Camp to our State Theater and an Everything TECH Camp to the Department of Education. We also sponsored several young adults in a first jobs program with the Job Training Center. Summer is key, especially for kids who can’t go to camps or museums or travel. We have to do better.

Tell us more about the “Annual Summit”: Goals, activities, participation, evaluations, specific stories, future directions…

Kathy Garcia: The annual summit is a special day for 200+ stakeholders from Tehama County and other counties. Our goal is to provide a day for connecting, motivating, educating and celebrating. It is part an economic development lesson (how is our county and region doing? Where are the challenges? Where are the opportunities?). It is part reporting out on the focus areas and stories and data. We try to introduce a topic that everyone should be aware of: changes in school funding, trauma in our communities and the challenges it creates; the needs and future direction of our key industry sectors; the true cost of poverty.

In 2018 we heard from the President of Chico State (right after the Paradise Fire, bless her). We talked about results-based accountability with Raj Chawla. We heard about how students who live in chronic trauma act in school and how schools are learning about trauma with Susan Jones. We also gave a lot of time to our attendees to talk to each other. We have a graphic facilitator drawing everything that is happening.

Each event is free to attend, beautiful to walk into, carefully designed down to every detail. We are very proud of these special convenings. Most people who come are completely surprised by the size and content of the day.

What more should Tehama County expect from 2019?

Kathy Garcia: Great question!!! They should expect to see an organization that craves needle moving change. To get there we’ll look a little harder at the data and the best ideas in the world for changing the direction for our kids. We’ll challenge each focus area to use results based accountability to get more stakeholders moving toward the same positive, needed results.

Heidi Mendenhall: They should expect to see more convening of leaders and more opportunities for everyone to “plug in”. For example, we are currently planning an event in which not only expect more is sponsoring but also Shasta college leaders, Chico state leaders, Tehama county department of education, Red Bluff High School, and WestEd.

What message EMT would like to deliver to Rural America?

Kathy Garcia: The advantages of being rural outweigh the disadvantages. Wrap your arms around your rural area and get people connected and talking. Everyone wants a safe place to live, good jobs and happy, thriving kids. Find what area of the work people are passion about and help them get started. People won’t always initiate on their own, but they do want to find their place in the work.

What advice would you give to Rural America?

Kathy Garcia:

Don’t become an island apart from technology and progress. Stay up to date!

You have professional talent all around. Mine for it.

Heidi Mendenhall:

Give yourself permission to be different.

We thank Kathy Garcia and Heidi Mendenhall for sharing their voices, experiences, and the great work of EMT.

We invite you to learn more about EMT and our North California Hub

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