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New partnership with Pando Initiative in full swing to boost student success in all five Maize USD 266 elementary schools

Lisa Santiago, Sydney LeFevre, Kayla King, Olivia Neises, Jayden MasseyIn Latin, Pando means “to spread out,” and the Wichita-based non-profit organization Pando Initiative does just that — it spreads out into the community and connects with resources to support students as they achieve their full potential.

The Pando Initiative has been supporting schools in Wichita, Derby, and Haysville for nearly 35 years, but this school year is the first year Pando has partnered with Maize USD 266 schools. A full-time Pando employee, called a student support advocate, was hired for each of the five elementary schools in Maize.

Karen Blucher, Senior Director for Programs and Operations at Pando, and Kenya McConico, Pando Program Director, said the main goal of the program is to get students to graduate from high school. Goals of the program are also to help students feel supported by their friends, family, school, district, and the community.

“We want them to graduate feeling good about themselves and feeling like they’ve accomplished their goals,” McConico said. “Kids do so much better if they have at least one adult in the building that they feel connected to or feel like they can go to as a safe space if something is going on.”

The program provides basic needs, including clothing, hygiene items, food, and school supplies. It also offers groups for students, such as empowerment groups, mindfulness, and social skills groups. Pando provides one-to-one mentoring, as well as small lunch groups, social-emotional support, goal-setting for attendance, and incentives for improvement.

Maize USD 266 educators and employees expressed during employee listening sessions in the 2022-23 school year that this type of extra support is one of the most pressing instructional needs they faced. Pando helps to improve student attendance, behavior, and academic performance.

“The Pando Initiative supports students and families so teachers can focus more time on student learning," Maize USD 266 Superintendent Dr. Raquel Greer said. “As we work as a district to boost our graduation rate, student post-secondary success, and student proficiency in reading and math, I am truly grateful for partners like Pando and Love Like Remi.”

Maize USD 266 thanks the Love like Remi Foundation, which is providing a 50/50 match to fund the Pando initiative programs at the five elementary schools. The Love Like Remi Foundation is in honor of Remington Young, a 2019 Maize High School graduate who battled mental health throughout her life. She was the victim of suicide in 2022, and her family began the Foundation to honor her legacy and to support students who are navigating pressures and expectations to perform at the highest level. The Foundation works to remove the stigma associated with students seeking help with these challenges. The Foundation wanted to bring its mission to Remi’s former school district and its students. The Foundation is determined to privately raise funds to support this program. The community will invest time, resources, and funding into this partnership.

Maize USD 266’s partnership with Pando also supports focus areas and lead measures of the Lead Forward strategic plan, including Nurture a Cohesive Culture, Cultivate and Sustain Relationships, Embrace Family Partnerships, Elevate Student Learning, Boost Student Attendance, Enhance Individualized Support, and Strengthen Resilience.

Blucher said each elementary school in Maize has about 35 to 40 students in the Pando program so far, and the caseloads will grow with time. Right now, Pando’s five student support advocates in Maize schools are busy getting the word out to parents about the program, starting lunch groups, and working on social skills and life skills with students.

Student participants will be identified through a case referral process, and parents will be invited to provide consent for their child’s participation in the program before involvement. 

Maize Pando employees are Lisa Santiago at Maize Elementary School, Olivia Neises at Maize South Elementary School, Kayla King at Vermillion Elementary School, Jayden Massey at Pray-Woodman Elementary School, and Sydney LeFevre at Maize Central Elementary School.

A typical day for them includes meeting with a few students and making sure the students are doing well in their classes. Three days a week, they host lunch groups, based on the need and the age. One day, King said, she had lunch with four first graders, during which they discussed mindfulness and empowerment.

The student support advocates in Maize, who all have a background in social work or human services, also meet with Maize school counselors, social workers, teachers, and principals about students throughout the week.

LeFevre at Maize Central Elementary School said she was interested in the position because she wanted a job where she interacts with students in an uplifting setting.

“It’s something where I could be a positive support person rather than a corrector,” she said. “In this role, I get to be the positive support person that jumps in and does a lot more strengths-based work, which I really love.”

Program Director McConico said Pando is a supportive, yet optional, program.

“Our staff is just there to help their students as well as families build a strong connection to the school, because ultimately that will help their students in the long run,” McConico said.

In addition to helping students during the day with lunch groups or incentives to boost attendance, Pando employees in Maize schools also work with families to meet their needs. If a family needs affordable medical care, clothes, food, shoes for their kids or anything else, Pando employees can help with resources for those needs.

Their job as student support advocates is to fill the gaps for students who sometimes fall through the cracks, but the Pando program is open to any student in the district. To nominate a student for the program, parents, teachers, or staff members can contact each elementary school’s office or its Pando employee.

Students in the Pando program also take part in book clubs and learn about financial literacy. Throughout the Wichita area, there are 28 Pando student support advocates in 27 schools, with about 50 to 100 students participating in the Pando program at each school.

“We want the parents and staff to understand that we are there to support them,” McConico said.

King added, “We’re super happy to be a part of the Maize district, and we hope that everyone is also excited to have us at the schools.”

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Pictured above from left: Maize Pando employees Lisa Santiago (Maize Elementary School), Sydney LeFevre (Maize Central Elementary School), Kayla King (Vermillion Elementary School), Olivia Neises (Maize South Elementary School), and Jayden Massey (Pray-Woodman Elementary School).