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A Place for Children to Learn

Castle Park: A Place for Children to Learn, Grow, and Succeed    

Chula Vista, CA (May 2013) - Thriving gardens, parent centers and afterschool academic support are just some of the successful efforts already underway for the Castle Park neighborhood of Chula Vista – all due to Chula Vista Promise Neighborhood (CVPN).

Coordinated by South Bay Community Services (SBCS), CVPN is one of seven awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhood Grant that supports academic excellence and college bound aspirations. The impressive comprehensive plan brings together a collaboration of partners – 28 local government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses –who have signed on to provide over $33 million in matching funds, making the total investment of over $60 million. The holistic approach focusing on family, education, health and building of strong community promises to change statistics and build a sustainable initiative for a neighborhood that has long been struggling.

The work began during the planning phase, when in 2011, SBCS was awarded $500,000 for a one year Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant.  During the year process, partners moved forward on some pilot projects and SANDAG came on board to conduct detailed needs assessment analysis of the neighborhood.

CVPN’s target neighborhood of Castle Park covers 33 census blocks and has a population of 6,744. It is characterized by high rates of poverty, low English Language proficiency and lack of early learning supports. About 67% of adults do not have their high school diploma and 52% of households do not have an adult employed full time.  A Chula Vista Elementary School District report shows that almost 25% of students in the area are obese. CVPN supports Castle Park Elementary, Middle and High Schools and Hilltop Middle and High Schools.

“When we started working with parents, they had two areas of concern: low literacy scores and obesity,” CVPN Community Engagement Specialist Rachel Morineau said. “So they decided to take on a project that they felt helped both – the revitalizing of the long neglected Castle Park Elementary garden.”

For years, the garden was brown and empty. Castle Park residents, supported by the CVPN team, applied for the City of Chula Vista’s Love Your Block grant. They were awarded $2,000 to purchase supplies from their local Home Depot and then moved by their efforts, Home Depot kicked in some extra saving. Parents, grandparents and community members rebuilt and planted and today it’s a thriving area of the school.

Students are learning about fruits and vegetables. The after school program, run by CVPN, holds monthly intergenerational reading and gardening events. The concept is now running strong at Castle Park Middle as well, with a new “Dig It” afterschool program teaching students fundamentals of gardening, composting and healthy cooking. This spring break, middle school students helped plant fruit trees in their new assigned campus garden.

The work of CVPN has just begun and partners are anxious to kick off the full plan come 2013-2014 school year.

“The ultimate goal of CVPN is to support children from the minute they are born to college completion,” Morineau said. “We’re committed to bringing that promise to reality.”