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Success Stories

USDA Rural Development Helps Rural School District Provide More than Education to Communities

jamie.welchjaro@usda.gov
Community Facilities
Education
Technology
Underserved
A group of adults sit in a community meeting room, listening to a speaker. Several members of the audience have their hands raised to ask a question.

In the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley lies a remote area sparsely dotted with unincorporated towns. Each town is small, where most of the residents are Latino farmworkers and low-income, and where community resources are limited. In lieu of a local government, the school district takes its place.

“We don’t have a city to organize activities or opportunities,” said Yolanda Valdez, superintendent of the Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District. “Basically, the school system is everything to everybody.”

Through the school system, families in this area can enjoy after school enrichment activities, parent education, access to health resources, and more. Because the district is so connected to the communities it serves, it often fills a community champion role, ensuring that voices are heard, and important connections are made.

In 2022 USDA Rural Development (RD) held a series of listening sessions to meet with leaders and residents of high need communities, through its targeted CORE (Creating Opportunities through Rural Engagement) effort, which is designed to increase investments in underserved rural communities by increasing engagement. This effort included hearing from many of those served by the Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District and was organized in partnership with County Supervisor Valero. Through these sessions and subsequent conversations, USDA RD staff in CA learned about the self-identified needs for the people who live and work in the community.

The engagement through CORE by local USDA RD staff facilitated participation by the district in RD programs.  This led to applications for assistance and the agency awarding the school district nearly $1.32 million in nine projects through USDA RD’s Community Facilities (CF) program. Community members who rely on the school district now have access to essentials including buses for transportation, equipment for school kitchens, top-quality technology for instruction, and increased security, and improvements to the heating ventilation and air conditioning systems.

"We were thrilled at the amount of time and dedication USDA spent at Orosi-Cutler and at having USDA come in and listen and be very empathetic about their community needs," said Valdez. “We felt special and heard, and then to provide funding for these underserved communities was incredible.”

A yellow school bus drives past a brown and yellow portable classroom in California.

USDA RD, in response to the information learned in the listening sessions, continued to provide additional opportunities to amplify available funding for underserved communities. Several rural school district leaders attended USDA RD-hosted webinars and meetings to learn more about the CF program application process. Following the webinars, California’s Palo Verde, Saucelito, Sundale, Waukena, and Monson-Sultana school districts successfully applied for and received funding for their own essentials, including a, kitchen equipment, new classroom furnishings, technology equipment, buses, and more.

The lessons learned through engagement in this remote area of California will help USDA RD better support rural school districts’ ability to meet the needs of their rural students and families.

For questions or to learn more about the Creating Opportunities from Rural Engagement (CORE) effort, email sm.rd.core@usda.gov or to learn more about USDA RD programs and services, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Date of Obligation
Obligation Amount:
$1.32 million
Date of Obligation:
Congressional District:
CA 22