Kent, Washington

Kent, a first-time 100 Best winner, is where youth are growing and thriving in an atmosphere that exemplifies the Five Promises. After-school and late night programs, parks, neighborhoods, and facilities are safe and secure destinations for kids and in many cases, are staffed with trained adults who provide structure and guidance. Kent youth are encouraged to give back to their community through a variety of volunteer and leadership opportunities.

Effective education is paramount in the community’s efforts to serve kids. The Kent School District places emphasis on academic achievement for college bound students as well as those planning to begin a career after graduation. The Kent Community prides itself on the ongoing efforts to support and promote the well being of young people, while still acknowledging that serving young people is a work in progress.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of Kent’s prioritization of youth in budgeting and policy making is seen in a 1996 Kent City Council decision to instate a utility tax of three-tenths of one percent (0.3 percent) to fund and invest in youth. School health clinics and churches have created programs to help young mothers, and volunteer events are provided to engage students in service learning projects. In 2007, staff, commissioners and city leaders recognized the importance of youth input in decision and policy making, and amended the Kent Arts Commission ordinance to include a Youth Commissioner as a voting member of the Commission; The Human Services Commission also appoints a youth commissioner annually; Kent’s high schools have GLBT groups and each school works with the Youth Suicide Prevention Program programs specifically directed to support GLBT students. Communities in Schools of Kent provides one on one counseling or small group mentors to students who have been identified as being at-risk of dropping out of school. In 2009, 60 elementary and middle school students were matched with mentors and 40 high school students were matched with mentors through the Kent School District.

Perhaps the longest and most valuable community collaboration has been a reciprocal use agreement between the City of Kent Parks Department and the Kent School District. This collaboration has been in place since 1969 and allows the city use of school district facilities including gyms, playfields, classrooms, and performing arts centers when not in use for school purposes. Kent Parks and other community programs currently use 37 elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools for mass sports programs of 1,000+ youth in each sports season, community education (arts, music, and dance), after school and late night programming for youth and teens, and cultural performances for the entire community. Use of facilities is free or at minimal cost, allowing program fees to be kept in an affordable range.