county boards
Napa program empowers Latina students
In 2008, the Napa County Of ce of Education noted high pregnancy rates and involvement in gangs among Latina youth in Napa schools. In response, the COE launched an innovative program, Mariposa Mentoring and Family Engagement, to boost social-emotional learning.
Originally funded through a Community Challenge grant, the program provides a safe haven in which girls can speak out against violence and substance use, advocate for themselves and one another, and become connected to their community.

“When youth feel supported and find the personal strength to make healthy decisions about their own lives, they feel empowered to help others and to make a difference in their community,” said Napa COE Superintendent Barbara Nemko.

The award-winning program models and develops positive behavior for Latina middle and high school students through mentoring and leadership training. Small groups meet for an hour once a week and focus on personal skills and relationship building, education, community involvement and leadership skills. Mariposa Youth Leaders are program graduates who receive 45 hours of additional training and serve as mentors and community leaders. The final component is the family program, which connects mothers and daughters through collaborative training in healthy relationships, mindfulness and college and career readiness.

“With a strong focus on relationship-building among peers and adults, programming builds protective factors that positively influence healthy choices,” Nemko added.

Taking place at eight middle and high schools, this year 124 students participated in the program, and Mariposa — a Spanish word meaning butterfly — has seen steady growth in the past decade. During this time, it has moved from an after-school activity to meeting during the academic day, and is now recognized by the Napa Valley Unified School District as a Tier 2 intervention program under the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, model.

The response among participants has been positive as well. “What I like most about Mariposa is the people that are in it,” said one high school participant. “We are all friends and feel comfortable to share out anything and how we can be there for each other and learn together.”

Added another student, “I love how Mariposa is a safe place to talk about sensitive topics and how the group all gets along.”

For county offices of education looking to create programs of their own, Nemko recommends evaluating the need in the community and determining program goals and objectives. Similarly, curricula and syllabi need to be aligned to the needs of students and the culture of the school. Community partnerships and passionate school facilitators are equally important.

“Students who engage in the program are very positive and want more opportunities to connect with each other and with the curriculum,” Nemko said.