Yakima, WA, SS/HS Initiative Takes a Holistic Approach to Academic and Social Success
For three teenagers on juvenile probation, making a crime prevention video for the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) initiative in Yakima, WA, helped them get back on track.
Several weeks before they started working on the video, one of the three teenagers in this central Washington State community was wearing an electronic tracking bracelet by order of the local court authorities. All of the students involved in the video had been suspended repeatedly from schools for infractions ranging from drug possession to theft.
"They were out on bail or awaiting sentencing," says Aurelio Garcia, the SS/HS technology integration specialist who led the prevention video project. "This [video] was their last chance."
Working with Garcia, the students wrote and filmed the video around the theme "making choices." To demonstrate to their peers the importance of making good choices, the students created a scenario that centered on breaking into a car-a poor decision that all three students had made in the past. In the video one student is about to break into a car when a friend comes along and convinces him that it is the wrong thing to do. The friend suggests that they go play basketball instead. The 1-minute video appears on www.studentscene.us
, a popular student Web site supported by the SS/HS initiative.
Making the short video proved to be a transformative experience for the students. They learned more about themselves and were able to give something back to the student community.
Garcia's Web and technology course is one of many programs offered by the SS/HS initiative. The middle and high school students in the course select topics that are important to them, like teenage pregnancy or suicide. They research their chosen theme, and create a Web site or video that includes their personal stories and feelings about the issue. Through their projects in this technology course, at-risk students reconnect to education through the creative process.
Meeting Challenges by Being Prepared
Educational Service District (ESD) 105 received an SS/HS grant in 2002. This SS/HS initiative serves eight school districts surrounding Yakima, WA. These eight school districts collectively serve 15,000 students in 39 schools, most of whom are Hispanic or American Indian.
In one school district served by the SS/HS initiative, almost 95 percent of its students are Hispanic. However, 60 percent of the administrators and teachers are non-Hispanic Whites. With very few personnel in the district that spoke fluent Spanish, families and students encountered an additional barrier as they found communications between themselves and school personnel to be difficult. Helping families and schools overcome this barrier is one of the main tasks of the SS/HS initiative.
"There was just a real huge disconnect in a number of ways," says SS/HS Project Coordinator Ann Allen. But the extensive faculty training programs made possible by the SS/HS grant allowed the Yakima initiative to reach dozens of faculty members every year, helping teachers and staff members overcome the language and cultural differences.
"The real disparity in many districts was in people understanding each other-the students and teachers and community," Allen says. "[The SS/HS initiative] works to allow the districts to tailor their programs to their district's individual needs."
The training provided to staff by the SS/HS initiative trains educators to rethink their teaching styles focusing on how students from different cultures learn. "The continuing education has allowed teachers to look at things differently in order to better meet the needs of the students," Allen says. "It provides an understanding of flexibility, whether that means changing assignments or redesigning curriculums to better meet the students' needs."
As a result of the teacher training made possible by the SS/HS grant, staff members and administrators deepened their understanding of the students they served, especially the importance of students' out-of-school lives. "Today both staff and students are continually learning about each other," Allen says of the training.
"There are things that happen in the lives of children that require more from everyone involved in their lives, including teachers," explains Allen. "You don't drop educational standards by any means, but.through creativity and empathy, you might change the processes of the 'how' and 'when' students or classes accomplish those standards."
Building a Foundation: Resource Management Teams
While teacher training is an important part of the initiative, Allen sees the Resource Management Teams in each of the eight school districts as the foundation of the ESD 105 SS/HS initiative. All teams include SS/HS mental health case managers, school administrators, counselors, and law enforcement representatives. Some of the individual school districts also include Child Protective Services case workers, juvenile probation officials, and administrators from the Washington State Department of Child and Family Services. These multi-agency teams meet weekly to develop educational strategies or to discuss meeting specific needs of particular students.
One of the programs the Resource Management Teams use to meet the needs of students and families is an evidence-based substance abuse prevention and treatment program. Through Merit Resource Services, a partner in the SS/HS initiative, they served nearly 250 students in the 6 months between October 2004 and March 2005. The program employs tactics such as alcohol or drug pre-assessments, individual treatment, family counseling, group counseling, and behavior contracts among schools, parents, and students to assist families when substance abuse issues prevent them from leading healthy lives.
In 2004, the Resource Management Teams and mental health case managers referred more than 1,800 students to the substance abuse prevention and treatment program and other community services for issues ranging from academic performance to behavioral problems. Because of the collaboration within the community established by the SS/HS initiative, students and families are now able to access these valuable programs and services.
"The teams have been very successful," Allen says. "It's not just one or two people. Each member comes and shares information so that there is a more holistic view. It's not just the view of the police or mental health counselor or school principal. Everyone has a job, but there is an overall plan as well as an accountability and evaluation component."
More recently, the work of the ESD 105 SS/HS initiative around Yakima, WA, has turned toward sustaining the partnerships and services developed with the help of its SS/HS grant. For example, the ESD 105 SS/HS initiative and its partners are now sustaining their core programs through Washington State prevention/intervention program funds and the State's Readiness To Learn program. Some of the programs assisting students and families are being sustained through in-kind services being provided by community partners.
"The goal here was to bring services into the schools and reconnect the community with the schools," Allen says. "We wanted a real bonding to occur between families and students and their schools. We wanted relationships built with mentors and the staff to improve academic success. It's all happening."