The Family and Community Engagement (FACE) mobile bus on Oct. 4, 2022. It is the first of its kind in Sacramento County.

Srishti Prabha | OBSERVER Staff Writer

San Juan Unified School District has a new vehicle. The Family and Community Engagement (FACE) mobile bus is the first of its kind in Sacramento County.

Deputy Superintendent of the district Melissa Bassanelli put it this way: “This seed really grew. And so a plain white van has turned into this beautiful, gorgeous blue bus that is equipped with technology, diapers, wipes, food and games for students.”

Stocked with culturally-competent literature, fingerprinting services for parent volunteers and laptops, the WiFi-enabled bus reimagines ways to embed multicultural student educational support, health and wellness services, college and career planning and more for the district’s communities. 

The interior of the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) mobile bus on Oct. 4, 2022. Andrew Nixon, CapRadio

Clarissa Alva, community engagement specialist for the district, drives the bus and was one of the visionaries behind the idea. 

“During COVID, a lot of the families just couldn’t access the school or technology or any of the schoolwork that they were supposed to do online,” she said. “We really need to just be able to get out to the families. And coincidentally, at the same time, the district got a $50,000 micro-grant.”

Alva and the bus, along with dual-language-speaking high school student interns, will serve parts of Arden-Arcade, Carmichael, Orangevale, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento three times a week. They are on a mission to reach all 64 schools in the district by the end of 2022.  

The rear of the Family and Community Engagement (FACE) mobile bus on Oct. 4, 2022. Andrew Nixon, CapRadio

San Juan Unified has developed partnerships with local libraries and housing complexes to reach families, and parents can stay updated with the bus’ location by checking the calendar.

Amy Gregory,  director of family engagement for San Juan Unified, says she envisioned this project to improve life outcomes for the youth in her district. Last week at the ribbon-cutting debuting the mobile bus, the excitement from community stakeholders was palpable.

Parent Erica Greene says the existence of the mobile bus felt significant. 

“Seeing an idea come to fruition where Miss Amy is helping not just me, but people throughout the entire district is just a beautiful thing. And I couldn’t see myself anywhere else but here supporting that,” said Greene.

Greene says she has relocated a few times, but she and her son ended up back in the San Juan area. She says she was moved by Gregory, who remembered her and her son at the grocery store.

“It just made me feel like we had someone in our corner, not just education-wise, but just as human beings,” Greene said. “And any time where she could see that I was struggling as a mom or just as a person, she’s always been available for advice.” 

Parent Erica Greene says the existence of the mobile bus felt significant. Andrew Nixon, CapRadio

Research shows that meaningful family engagement contributes to improved student achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, strong parent–teacher and teacher–student relationships and a positive school environment. 

“We know that in the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity,” Gregory said. “Instead of dwelling on the challenges that the pandemic has brought, our team has been focused on what we call the ‘pandemic positives’ – one being the opportunity for districts, schools and community partners to become more innovative in the ways in which they support families.”

And the FACE mobile bus is one of those ways.

“Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed. And nothing ever changes without a dream,” Gregory said.