• Yakima Greenway planting for the future

    Posted by Tony Silver at 10/31/2013


    Despite the chill in the air Tuesday morning, Union Gap eighth-graders armed with shovels planted about 200 shrubs along a recently relocated Yakima Greenway path that runs past the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

    These new rose and currant bushes are just a small part of the restoration efforts around the city’s multiphase, multimillion-dollar plan to expand the Yakima River floodplain by moving levees, the treatment plant’s outlet and a section of the Greenway path.

    “Rivers naturally move over time, and we want to give (the Yakima River) more space to move,” Ryan Anderson, an engineer for the wastewater plant, told the students. “We’ve lost the natural side channel habitat. We need this floodplain back, for flood control and salmon habitat.”

    The flood protection plan calls for pushing back the levee on the eastern side of the river. This will give the river more space to move and shift over time, which is good for flood control. But it means that the river could move away from the pipe that releases the city’s treated wastewater, Anderson said, or clog it with gravel.

    The treatment plant plans to relocate the outlet pipe into a side channel, a smaller stretch of water that flows beside the main river. To do that, they first converted a 5-acre pond fed by groundwater and a flat field next to the river into a channel that will connect to the river. Eventually, it will function like natural habitat.

    This floodplain restoration cost about $500,000 and the city secured some state and federal funds available for salmon habitat work to help pay for the project.

    Although salmon and steelhead runs in the Yakima River system are far below historic levels, in recent years populations have begun to rebound. Thousands to tens of thousands of fish return annually to spawn in the basin. Habitat restoration is a key part of that recovery, according to scientists.

    To improve the area for salmon, Anderson explained that this fall, crews removed culverts and reshaped the pond and its drainage into to the Yakima River so fish can get in and out. The work also created more deep holes that salmon like and will allow the water to flow faster, so that it will stay cold and clear, he said.

    “Now, we just need trees to make shade,” Anderson said.

    Lots of volunteer groups, from local fish enthusiasts to fifth-graders, have participated in planting efforts. Small cottonwoods already line the banks of the newly dug creek.

    And shrubs were set out along the upland area next to the new asphalt path, waiting for the 61 Union Gap School students.

    After a quick lesson in planting protocol, the students set out in small groups, slamming shovels into the rocky soil and wrestling thorny rose bushes free from their pots.

    As they worked, a cyclist sped by on the new path. About 3,500 feet of the path was removed from along the river’s edge and relocated a couple hundred yards to the west, on the other side of the 50 new acres of floodplain and wetland habitat. The city estimated moving the path cost $290,000.

    Union Gap social studies teacher Tim Kilgren said he hoped the students were learning both about the potential consequences of when humans alter the natural environment, like building levees to constrain rivers, and about the ongoing importance of protecting salmon.

    Lilibeth Ramos, 13, and Maryam Sanchez, 12, were busy planting their third tree, but they agreed that it was fun to see what they had talked about in science class in the real world.

    “It’s actually really fun,” Ramos said. “We’re learning how we can help trees and other organisms, too.”

    Other students were enthusiastic about missing class and having a chance to help out instead. Brandon Worthington, 13, said he was having a great time as he swung a pickax to loosen up stubborn rocks in the soil.

    “You get to help the community and not be in a classroom,” Worthington said.

    Although about 5,000 trees have been planted this fall, Anderson said several thousand more remain for next spring to finish the restoration around the newly created side channels.

    After this habitat work is completed in the spring, work can move on to the next phase of the project — relocating the pipes that release the treated water into these new channels.

     Picture of Sheridan Pierone and Mariah Moreno planting a tree
    Sheridan Pierone, left, and Mariah Moreno, along with their Union Gap School classmates, plant trees Oct. 29, 2013 in an area near the Yakima River and Yakima's wastewater treatment plant. The area is being restored to a flood plain as part of a larger project to relocate the plant's outfall, relocate levees and create additional flood plains. Pierone and Moreno are eighth graderrs.
    Ryan Anderson Instructs Union Gap Students how to plant the trees
    City of Yakima utility engineer Ryan Anderson instructs Union Gap School eighth graders how to plant trees Oct. 29, 2013 in an area near the city's wastewater treatment plant. Anderson is the head of a project which will create additional floodplain and move the plant's outfall.
    Pic of Anacelli Ramos, Leslie Tinajero, and Laura Suarez planting a tree
    Union Gap School eighth graders (l-r) Anacelli Ramos, Leslie Tinajero and Laura Suarez plant a tree near the Yakima River Oct. 29, 2013 as part of a project to help create a floodplain between Yakima's wastewater treatment plant and the Yakima River. Creation of this flood plain is part of a larger project to move the plant's outfall, move levees along the river and create additional floodplains. 
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  • Union Gap leads the way in school performance while other districts fall behind

    Posted by Tony Silver at 10/18/2013
    YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- More report cards are in for schools across the state.
    There's not much to brag about for local districts.
    They aren't making that much progress when it comes to getting students up to speed in reading and math.
    Parents don't want to hear that their child's school isn't teaching students well enough.
    Stephanie Flynn's son Colton will start kindergarten in Yakima soon.
    Stephanie and her husband plan to make sure Colton gets a good education.
    "It's just taking time to sit down and talk with them about what did you do today? Was it fun, did you learn anything new?," said Stephanie Flynn, a Yakima mother.
    Statewide results show school districts here in the Yakima Valley don't have enough students where they should be in both math and reading.
    In the Yakima School District, both white and Hispanic students are behind the targeted goals.
    In both Sunnyside and West Valley, white students are above target in reading scores.
    But it's not all bad.
    Union Gap stands out and received the School of Distinction award for the second year in a row. It's among the top two percent of schools in the state for showing improvement.
    "We're rigorous. We hold accountable. We have high expectations. We've had a lot of success with that especially over the last five years," said Principal Lisa Gredvig.
    Gredvig says letting teachers be creative in the classroom has turned the school around the last five years.
    And the results prove it. Union Gap exceeded the target goals for all students in both math and reading.
    "All students are the same, I don't care what income bracket they're coming, they're walking into, all kids can learn and our kids are proving that," said Gredvig.
    Lessons other districts in the Valley still need to figure out.
    No one from the Yakima School District was able to give us a comment on the results Friday.
    You can see the breakdown for all the districts and how they're doing at KIMATV.com
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  • New Plan to improve school security in Yakima, Kittitas Counties

    Posted by Tony Silver at 8/22/2013 5:00:00 PM
    YAKIMA, Wash. -- As kids head back to school there's a new plan in place to improve school security. The tragedy at Sandy Hook spurred changes across districts in Yakima and Kittitas Counties. Nobody slacked over the summer in Union Gap Schools. While students were on vacation -- the district added new security protocols.Union Gap School was one of the few to get the cutting edge changes."It's nice as it relates to the fact that you're only one of five schools that got chosen to do this pilot and to be connected to fire ambulance, police," said Union Gap School principal Lisa GredgivVisitors now have their ID checked at the door. There's just one entrance and once a name tag is used it can't be used again.In the coming months -- the school will get new security software. Union Gap and Cle Elum School Districts will be the first to use the software called SafePoint. By the touch of a button -- emergency responders and schools will be automatically connected. Yakima County plans to keep meeting weekly with cops to talk about security. As KIMA showed already the new Eisenhower High has hundreds of security cameras to keep an eye on safety.And in Ellensburg a new building at Lincoln Elementary is likely to have just one door for visitors to come through. Grandview and East Valley will be next to get SafePoint. After a close call in Georgia just this week, the changes here in Yakima can help parents feel more at ease. The plan was to bring in SafePoint software by October, but now I'm told it might take a bit longer to come online.
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  • Davis Senior's mother opted to self-deport so her family could have future

    Posted by Tony Silver at 6/4/2013

    YAKIMA, Wash. — Because her mother came out of the shadows, Anjelica Reyna has been able to shine.

    Reyna, a graduating senior at Davis High School, says if her mother hadn’t made the agonizing decision to go back to Mexico, she wouldn’t be heading off to Washington State University this fall.

    Reyna, who was born in Yakima 17 years ago, has a family story somewhat reminiscent of what Mitt Romney urged undocumented workers to do during the presidential campaign last year: self-deport.

    And that’s basically what Reyna’s mother, Rafaela Gomez, did.

    “My mom took a stand, and I’m grateful,” Reyna says.

    Reyna’s father was killed in a car accident in Michoácan, Mexico, five months before she was born. Her mother was left with two children, Efren, 3, and Lourdes, 4, and not much hope for their future in their small farming village. But Rafaela had a brother in Yakima, who was here on a work visa, and he urged his sister to come to the United States to better provide for her children.

    So when she was seven months pregnant, she sneaked across the border, her two children with her. Reyna was born two months later at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

    In time, Rafaela married Austreberto Gomez, and they had a daughter, Samantha, now 10.

    When Reyna was in sixth grade, her mother made the decision to go back to Mexico so they could return some day legally.

    She had applied for citizenship but was denied. She could have continued to live here and dodge law enforcement, but she wanted her children to be able to go to college in this country someday.

    “I think it was the right decision,” says Daniel Longoria, an economics teacher at Davis, who calls Reyna “a great kid.” Reyna’s mother, he says, “took a big risk with her family, and that allowed them to have opportunity later.”

    Reyna agrees. “I’m definitely proud of her decision. I wouldn’t be here without that.”

    The entire family moved to Michoácan six years ago. Even though Reyna is fluent in Spanish, it was difficult to maneuver in a strange land. “It was culture shock. The environment was so different,” she says.

    After a year and a half, Rafaela Gomez was told she could return to this country as a permanent resident. Reyna, who came back near the end of seventh grade, has excelled in school since. She maintains a 3.5 GPA while being involved in volunteer work at Davis and working every day after school, 16 hours a week, in the latch key program at Union Gap School.

    Reyna says her mother didn’t have the opportunity to go to school past the fourth grade in Mexico but always wanted more for her children. So far she’s been very successful: Lourdes graduated from WSU, and Efren from the Art Institute of Seattle.

    In the fall, Reyna heads to Pullman to study psychology, with an eye toward becoming a high school counselor.

    “What I love about Anjelica’s story,” Longoria says, “is they are the family you want here. They’re the kids you want in class. They’re living the American dream right here in Yakima.”

    This is how Reyna sees it: “I’m so blessed to be here and finishing high school and going to college.”

    • Jane Gargas can be reached at 509-577-7690 or jgargas@yakimaherald.com.

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  • Do school uniforms help test scores?

    Posted by Tony Silver at 5/28/2013 6:30:00 PM

    Student uniforms can be a divisive issue for any school district. Several here in the Yakima Valley have strict dress codes. KIMA found one district saw dramatic improvement in bullying cases.

    These students don't have the freedom to express themselves with what they wear at school. Uniforms have been the rule in Union Gap since the fall of 2009. Parents said the change was good.

    "When they're focusing on school, they're focused on school,” said Juliana Moreno. “They're not focused on what I need to buy, what I need to have."

    Teachers agreed. Stacey Benedetti has taught at Union Gap School for 13 years.

    "It eliminates the distractions that come along with that status," said Stacey.

    Parents and teachers KIMA spoke with said the school uniforms create a better learning environment. Kids pay less attention to what they wear and can focus more on academics.

    KIMA pulled the numbers to see if there's a noticeable difference in not only student performance, but also behavior.

    Union Gap School saw a big drop in bullying suspensions after requiring uniforms. Test scores are a different story. KIMA compared eighth and tenth graders for Union Gap and the only two schools in Yakima with a uniform policy in place for more than a year.

    In reading, scores were lower for Washington Middle. Union Gap's were generally higher with one exception. Stanton also increased.

    In Math, scores were lower for Washington Middle. Union Gap's first two years were lower than before uniforms, but were higher last year. Stanton scores increased as well.

    "I see a huge change when the kids aren't so consumed with what they're wearing or what somebody else is wearing," said Juliana.

    A change that has shown kids behave better, but doesn't necessarily translate to better grades. Grandview Middle School will students will have uniforms next school year.

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  • Union Gap Gov Club supporting HB 1107

    Posted by Tony Silver at 3/22/2013 8:00:00 AM

    The following video is from a committee hearing in Olympia, WA where a dedicated, volunteer lobbyist advocates for a bill (HB 1107) on behalf of Union Gap’s Gov Club.

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  • Union Gap School Honored with 'School of Distinction' award

    Posted by Tony Silver at 12/11/2012 6:15:00 AM
    UNION GAP, Wash. -- Union Gap School earned the "Schools of Distinction Award" this year. It honors the top five-percent of schools in the state based on reading and math improvement in the last five years.

    Administrators say everyone at Union Gap School should be proud.

    "This is maybe a middle school award as it relates to grades six through eight, but because of the length of time this is really something we are celebrating as a school," said Union Gap High School Principal Lisa Gredvig.

    The improvement is calculated from test scores collected in the state's Measurement of Student Progress.

    Union Gap School is one of 97 schools in the state honored with the award. 
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  • Union Gap 8th Graders now published poets

    Posted by Sarah Navoy, KIMA Action News at 2/9/2012 12:00:00 PM

    UNION GAP, Wash. -- Ten students in Union Gap are now published poets. The eighth graders submitted poems they wrote in class.

    The ten winners will be published in the nationally-distributed book A Celebration of Poets.
    Student's say they're excited and honored to be published.
    "I like to read a lot and when I write I just like getting out ideas and possibly writing something that I would like to have read," said Samantha Gordon, a published poet. "When I'm reading poems I just like the words to flow together."
    Some of the poems were written about veteran's day. Others were about various subjects of interest to the students.
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  • Bullying cases nearly cut in half in Yakima schools

    Posted by Tony Silver at 10/3/2011 5:35:00 PM
    UNION GAP -- It's the heartache you hope to avoid and the words you never want your kids to hear.

    "They start picking and saying you're fat and stuff," says parent, Laurie Snider.

    Snider's 11 year old son is a student here at Union Gap school, and is one of the many bullying victims in the county. But, a change made two years ago is what has changed her son's life.

    "Before uniforms, we did have a lot of problems with bullying and he wasn't happy," says Snider. "But since the uniforms, he's night and day."

    And Vice Principal Si Stuber is seeing those drastic changes first hand. He says black, white and gray shirts have leveled the playing field and reduced competition between the haves and have-nots. Especially since these shirts are free of logos or brand names.

    "That's been used to help classify people or use as a status symbol, so we don't allow that," says Stuber.

    That no tolerance policy has almost cut bullying cases in half. Not all students are thrilled about dressing alike, but Stuber says those protests have inspired some creative writing.

    "Kids still complain about it," says Stuber. "If they're doing a persuasive writing piece they'll use that topic cause it's easy and fun to write about."

    "All the kids are the same, you know?" says Snider. "No one has something a little more special than the other."

    But what takes away some individuality, brings more smiles and more confidence. And, hopefully more success stories like Sniders.

    We also contacted the Yakima schools with uniform policies and found they too have seen a decrease in bullying cases. Both Yakima and Union Gap schools also report seeing a decrease in gang violence in schools, as well. As uniforms prevent kids from wearing gang colors.
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  • More School Safety Projects Headed to Union Gap

    Posted by Tony Silver at 8/7/2011

    UNION GAP -- As part of a transportation improvement plan, Union Gap secured funds to add a number of school safety projects.

    Those will include more speed detectors, crossing flashers, sidewalks, and signs lining the streets.

    The projects will be in various locations city-wide, and people we talked to say the new additions can't come soon enough.

    "It would be nice to have a light there, because there are a lot of people around here," says Walter Canatsey. "Especially when school gets out, there are cars all lined up trying to get through here."
    The school safety projects will cost a total of about $250,000. $200,000 from state funds and $50,000 from local funds. 

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