Since the 2017-2018 school year, Seneca Washington has cultivated an impactful relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary (pK-5th) in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood. As part of Seneca’s expanding partnership with Seattle Public Schools, a Student Support Counselor was placed at the school in Fall of 2017. Starting in the Fall of 2019, Seneca proudly expanded MLK Jr.’s partnership to include a full-time Unconditional Education Coach.
With an enrollment of about 350 students, MLK Jr. takes seriously it’s responsibility to provide every student with an excellent, holistic education. Martin Luther King Jr. is known a Seattle Public School’s most diverse student body, with students coming from over 20 unique languages and cultures. Over 98% of MLK Jr.’s students are students of color and about 40% are English Language Learners. Martin Luther King Jr. is a school where joy is always in the air, families and community members are active and engaged, and staff care deeply about the students they serve.
Seneca’s partnership with MLK Jr. Elementary began with a full-time Student Support Counselor focused on carrying out the reset procedure- helping students who are experiencing behavioral challenges, in the moment, to regulate emotions, reflect, restore relationships, and reintegrate into classrooms. With support from Seneca staff, these Tier II and Tier III behaviors become less frequent and shorter in duration. The reduction in reactive interventions at MLK Jr. provided a powerful opportunity for Seneca- to shift the focus of the partnership to a proactive PBIS-informed approaches (check-in/check-outs, reward systems, behavior plans, etc.) for individual students.
As the partnership with MLK Jr. continued to grow, Seneca staff became more integral resources in systems-wide changes at the classroom and school-wide level. This shift resulted in Seneca placing MLK Jr.’s first Unconditional Education Coach at the school in August 2019. Martin Luther King Jr.’s UE Coach works in-step with the principal to lead multi-disciplinary, multi-agency teams to identify key areas of growth within the school. In a few short months, the UE Coach has made incredible progress in implementing core parts of the Unconditional Education model; she’s kick-started the school’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support team, coordinated MLK Jr.’s PBIS implementation, established a Coordination of Services Team referral system, and began coaching individual staff members. Seneca’s partnership with MLK Jr. Elementary is a powerful example of the impact of multi-year partnerships. Through building trust, integrating into MLK’s school community, and developing closely aligned values, Seneca’s partnership continues to increase the achievement of MLK Jr. students by building a climate and culture that is engaging and responsive to all.
I’m writing this week to introduce Ánimo Legacy Charter Middle School, one of Seneca’s newest school partners and one of our very first in Los Angeles! Ánimo Legacy is one of twenty Green Dot schools in LA and is located in the south LA community of West Athens, serving approximately 1,200 students in 6th through 8th grade. Legacy is hosted on the campus of Los Angeles Unified’s Henry Clay Middle School, which Green Dot assumed control of in 2011 through LAUSD’s Public School Choice initiative, where operators can apply to run one or more of the city’s most persistently low-performing schools. Clay was split into two smaller campuses—Ánimo Western Charter Middle School and Ánimo Phillis Wheatley—before being unified this school year as Ánimo Legacy.
Legacy’s partnership with Seneca began when Green Dot toured some of our Bay Area programs back in January of this year. During those tours, Green Dot became especially interested in Seneca’s culture and climate partnerships and the role of the UE Coach. Through a grant from LAUSD’s SELPA, we were able to place a UE Coach at Legacy this school year, Jeraniqua Martin, whose focus is to help develop the new school’s systems for coordination of services and school culture and climate improvements. In addition to Jeraniqua’s role, the grant also funds a series of trainings for Green Dot’s network-wide team of twenty-five school psychologists (led by our very own Sonya Benavides) on best practices for COST and MTSS implementation.
At Ánimo Legacy, our partnership this year has focused on building on the school’s existing strengths and systems of support. Among its many strengths, Legacy’s team has built incredibly strong connections with families and the community, with an admin team that strongly prioritizes family involvement in their students’ education. Many teachers have also been with their respective schools since their founding in 2011, which resulted in strong—but different—cultures having developed on each campus. These differences in school cultures have provided something of a challenge as the schools merged, as staff (and families) across both schools had grown accustomed to their own norms, practices, and ways of being. To help support this transition, our work has focused on two priority areas this year. First, Jeraniqua is participating on Legacy’s School Culture Team, whose aim is to build unity and cohesion among staff, students, and families. Second, Jeraniqua is leading Legacy’s new Student Support and Progress Team (SSPT)—our local version of COST—to help develop collaborative systems of support for students, staff, and teachers.
Even as these structures continue to take shape, Jeraniqua has wasted no time building relationships across the Legacy community. Only two months into the school year, she has already built quite a following on campus—whether it’s students reaching out in need of someone to talk to, a teacher asking for support with a student or intervention, or a member of the School Culture Team asking for advice about Niqua’s experience leading PBIS, SART, or MTSS initiatives at her previous schools. We are only excited to find more ways to roll these supports out campus-wide as the year continues!
Kipp Bayview Elementary is in its second year of serving the Hunter's Point community with quality, early childhood education. Housing students from Transitional Kindergarten through second grade, KBE boasted a strong restorative approach to discipline and positive behavioral interventions before Seneca even entered the building. Now, in our first year of partnership together, Seneca and KBE are taking the next step in trauma-informed education for the children and families of our community. Gage McGarry, the Unconditional Education Coach at KBE, has been able to build on the three school-wide behavioral expectations, "Work Hard/Be Kind/Be Safe," and create a set of visuals that line the halls and various locations on campus. KBE students kicked off the year with engaging lessons at each major location on campus, practicing the school rules in each setting. The students also just had their kick-off assembly, in which students from every class were acknowledged with "Student of the Week" for meeting and exceeding these expectations. The classroom with the most Class Dojo points, the online school-wide currency system that KBE employs, received the Class of The Week award. So, what does a KBE student receive for these accomplishments? They get to spin a digital Wheel of Fortune to earn extra recess, special game time, class parties, or another exciting reward.
While the Seneca and KBE staff have been focusing on explicit instruction and celebrating positive behaviors, they have also been responding to high levels of need on campus. Bayview/Hunter's Point is a strong community with a solid history of activism and sticking together through challenging times. It is also a neighborhood that has been historically undeserved and highly impacted by poverty and community violence. Many children at KBE demonstrate the internalizing and/or externalizing behaviors commonly associated with early childhood trauma exposure. While these behaviors can often make school a tricky place to be, our Clinical Intervention Specialist, Raquel Monge, and the rest of the KBE team are ready and willing to support all of their amazing students. One of our Kindergartners, who prefers to be called "Ice" or "Tony Stark," depending on his mood, was eloping and demonstrating risky behaviors on a daily basis (i.e. climbing to high places and threatening to jump off). Our staff have been working hard to develop strong, supportive relationships with Ice, and it is certainly paying off. Recently, Ice ran out of class and towards the staircase, which used to be a precursor for dangerous behavior. But this time, he ran right up to the UE Coach, grabbed his hand, and said "will you please help me fly like Superman back to my classroom?" The UE Coach smiled and said "Absolutely" before scooping Ice up and soaring down the hall to his classroom. For this little guy, that flight was evidence that he can trust the adults around him to keep him safe and meet his needs at school. We are so proud of Ice and all of our KBE students for the new skills they are acquiring and the hard work they do everyday. Keep your eye on this new little school in Hunter's Point! They are certainly on a path to greatness this year.
Kirkwood Early Childhood Center is part of the Wu-Yee network of Head Start programs in San Francisco. Located in the heart of Hunter's Point, Kirkwood serves strong, resilient children and families from a diverse set of cultural backgrounds. The youngest child at Kirkwood is around 4 months old, and the oldest children are turning 5. Many Kirkwood families have limited access to resources and past/current trauma exposure. There is also a high percentage of children with disabilities at the site. 60% of one of the toddler classrooms is comprised of children with identified disabilities. Under the previous mental health model, a child had to be diagnosed with a disability in order to receive any type of care, and as we all know, that process can be lengthy and challenging at times.
Now, Seneca has the amazing opportunity to work with a dedicated team and co-design a supportive, tiered approach to early childhood mental health services. Our partners at the Primary School in East Palo Alto connected us with the Kirkwood team to identify areas of growth in culture and climate, tier 2/3 services, coordination of services, and family engagement. After interviewing all staff members through English and Cantonese focus groups, we worked together to create an Annual Implementation Plan. As part of this plan, the team built a menu of socio-emotional services that is geared towards the early childhood population. The Seneca clinician, Aditi Uttarwar (featured in the blog this week!), is currently providing parent workshops, coaching for teachers and Family Advocates, play groups, dyadic groups (parent:child pairs), individual/family therapy, and much more!
As the first early childhood implementation of the UE model, we definitely have our work cut out for us at Kirkwood. We are continuing to refine and adapt the model as we begin providing services on the ground. Luckily, we have a powerhouse team of early childhood educators, psychologists, and school administrators from Seneca, Wu-Yee, The Primary School, and other agencies working behind the scenes. Our hope is that other early childhood programs in the city will notice the powerful changes happening at Kirkwood and adopt similar, tiered approaches to mental health. Are you curious about our UE Munchkins in San Francisco? Reach out to Jonathan Barnett or the amazing Aditi Uttarwar to set up a visit!
“Walking feet, Kindergartners!” the principal says as she sees two students zoom past her in the hallway. A moment later, a classroom teacher firmly and respectfully says, “Remember, calm and kind words,” when the student starts to yell harshly at a classmate. On the playground a student council member facilitates the Peace Path with two students who had a conflict, ending with a fist bump, shake or high five. In the cafeteria, the vice principal circulates and calls out, “Table 102 gets a clean table point for throwing away that piece of trash! I hear soft voices at table 105 for a point” while he doles out Class Dojo points.
At Montalvin, one big goal for this school year has been to celebrate the positives and flip the language heard around the school from “don’t...” to “do...”. Stating expectations in the positive helps to give students a vocabulary about what they SHOULD be doing and conveys that you believe they can. Students need to see themselves as capable of meeting expectations and participating as responsible community members. When everyone throughout the school uses positive language it helps students build that self-perception. You begin to see a mindshift and students can name and show you what “being good” looks and sounds like, how it feels, and why it’s important. Responsive Classroom, a research-based positive approach to education, backs this up, “Our words and tone of voice have a profound effect on children. By tuning in to the language we use with children, day in and day out, everywhere in school, we can empower our students, helping them to learn new skills and become their best selves.”
Here are a few pointers gleaned from PBIS and Responsive Classroom on effective and positive reinforcement:
One very concrete way we’ve seen this work at Montalvin is in our cafeteria. Students were struggling to meet expectations of keeping their hands to themselves, walking, keeping a low volume, cleaning up after themselves, eating their food appropriately, raising their hands to get out of their seats, etc. Throughout the year, the admin team and lunch supervisors tried a variety of interventions and consequences like assigned seating, more staff, reteaching and practicing, community service, loss of recess, etc.
It wasn’t until we brought Class Dojo, a positive behavior tracking app, into the lunch room that we began to see improvement. We also hung up posters and images of Montalvin students following expectations so students can see themselves doing what they should. Now, the lead lunch staff calls out positive behavior and give points generously for all the things they see going well. Other lunch staff circulate from table to table giving points when warranted and reminders when needed. The points are projected in real-time and tables silently cheer for each other when points are earned. Students work together toward earning points as a table for extra play time and, at the end of the year, the ability to participate in a much anticipated water balloon fight!
Vice Principal, Michael Small praises the new system, “Since we implemented Dojo, students have been way more motivated to follow our core values. We have to redirect students less and the cafeteria is a lot cleaner and more fun. It’s really been transformative!”
This week I’m highlighting one of our Education For Change partnership schools - Achieve Academy in Oakland’s Fruitvale district. Clinical Intervention Specialist Marianne Clark AMFT, who is also our featured staff in the blog this week, has engaged in an innovative practice at Achieve that expands her reach as a single Seneca clinician on her campus. Through building the capacity of others, Marianne and her collaborative Achieve team have been able to serve dozens of students through tier 2 Social Skills groups during the first cycle of service this year; truly an example of creatively bringing the mission of Unconditional Education to her campus.
The project began with an awareness of her limitations as a single provider at the school. Using our Social Emotional Screener tool, Marianne gathered emotional and behavioral data on every student at Achieve and was able to see trends and needs across grades, classrooms, and individual students. But how could Marianne find the time in her week to provide the myriad of group services the students there would most benefit from? Her answer: she couldn’t do it on her own. Marianne realized she needed more adults to provide groups and that she could share her expertise with them as a coach and mentor. She put together a presentation on the basics of running a group, and solicited interest from her school administration and staff community.
She then met with a group of interested EFC staff which included PE teachers, assistant principals, and other staff on site to provide them with a training on the basics of running a social skills group. Sitting down with each adult individually, Marianne was able to learn more about what types of issues, students and age groups they were most excited to work with. She was intentional around supporting them to feel more connected to the work by getting to know what their values were and what they were most interested in.
Next, Marianne revisited the data from her Social Emotional Screeners. She made sure to assign facilitators to grade levels and group topics that would resonate for them. Tailoring activities to the topics of the groups was another way that Marianne supported the adults with their new initiative. And they were off!!
Midway through the first group cycle, Marianne brought her team of adults together to provide problem-solving, consultation and connection. She also started getting input from the team on what they’d like to do for their next cycle in order to keep the momentum going on their new tier 2 initiative.
Primary and Secondary benefits:
In addition to providing social skills groups to 100 students in the first 6 weeks, other benefits of Marianne’s approach include:
Marianne is just getting going with the progress monitoring and outcomes measurements that we use for tier 2 groups. This will include gathering SDQ and collecting Social Emotional Screener data toward the end of the year to see if students involved in the tier 2 cycles showed improvement in any of their challenge areas. We’re also eager to hear how the facilitators feel after their first year of providing social skills groups with Marianne’s counsel. So far, this has been a big win for the students and school community of Achieve!
What about at your school? Is there an opportunity to build the capacity of others and leverage your own expertise to have a broader reach while building campus connections? Leave a comment below if you have thoughts or questions about how you might do this at your school.
This week's school highlight is ARISE High School, located in the Fruitvale area in Oakland:
The mission at ARISE is to empower our students with the knowledge, skills, and agency to be leaders in Oakland. We provide a small school environment where we pride ourselves in every student having at least one adult who knows them well and supports them on their educational journey. At ARISE, education is not just about how well you do on a test. We are a small school that emphasizes knowledge of self, society, and history within a highly personalized supportive environment. ARISE is committed to building and maintaining healthy communities by providing families, many of which are first generation college bound, access to college and careers in Education, Community Social Services, Community Justice, Public Health, and Public Policy.
At ARISE we nurture, train, and discipline our school community to engage in a continuous practice of developing mind, heart, and body towards a VISION where we actively rise up. Agency and self-determination drive our struggle to improve our own material and social conditions towards a more healthy, equitable, and just society.
ARISE High School has been honored to serve the Oakland community for nearly 11 years and looks forward to continuing this service during our next charter term. Our founders, just as our staff today, believe that all children deserve a quality education that doesn’t replicate inequitable and oppressive institutions. Instead, we’ve developed a rigorous, high engagement, and authentic learning experience for our students.
ARISE High School currently serves approximately 286 students in grades 9-12, and prepares students from low-income families to be the first to attend college. Currently 86% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 89% speak English as a Second Language, and 86% are first-generation college-bound. We are incredibly proud of our students’ successes. Each year, we have had at least 85% of our graduates matriculate into 2- and 4- year colleges and universities. In addition, we believe our alumni will be the future change-makers of Oakland. As more and more of them graduate from college we look forward to welcoming back into our community.
ARISE graduates will equip themselves with the knowledge, skills and agency to lead successful lives as defined by themselves, their families, and the ARISE mission and vision. Our Graduate Profile supports the growth of knowledge, skills and agency through our branches of Project Based Learning, our Instructional Core, our Linked Learning Pathway all wrapped together with our school culture.
Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) partners with Seneca Family of Agencies to provide behavioral and therapeutic support at their alternative education campus. Students are referred to the Community Day School (CDS) campus through the Disciplinary Hearing Process (DHP), when they have been expelled from their home school campus. Students are assigned to the CDS campus for a set period of time, depending on the severity of the behavior leading to their expulsion.
While at CDS, the staff provide a nurturing environment where students receive academic and behavioral supports, as well as develop a strong sense of community. Through our behavioral phase system, eligible students are able to receive special monthly lunches, attend monthly field trips, and participate in student store twice a month. The entire campus community also participates in monthly cultural lunches, where students learn about other cultures and experience food from those cultures.
CDS is a small, intimate campus nestled in the Oakland hills. The serene environment, combined with smaller class sizes and a variety of staff supports, help students to focus on achieving individualized behavioral and academic goals, and prepare for their readmission hearing. At the readmission hearing, school staff discuss the student’s progress and either recommend that the student be readmitted to a mainstream school or remain at CDS to continue work on specific goals. The ultimate goal for students at CDS is to be readmitted. This past December, CDS had 12 students readmitted, which is the largest number of readmissions the campus has ever seen.
The founders of the Primary School had a vision of a community school that began serving children at birth and offered a holistic approach to serving their students and families. When they opened their doors in August of 2016, they welcomed in expecting mothers for prenatal services, parents with infants and toddlers for early childhood programming, and 3 year-olds for full day Pre-School. Now, The Primary School has their first 1st grade class and will grow one grade level each year until they reach 8th grade. With their own special blend of Whole Child supports, The Primary School maintains close relationships with health clinics in the neighborhood and utilizes their pediatrician (yes, they have a pediatrician!) to collaborate with students' health care providers. In addition to health integration, The Primary School also offers parent coaching for every family. Each caregiver is assigned a Parent Coach and attends regular groups on nutrition, discipline strategies, bedtime routines, accessing community resources, and more.
Seneca has the amazing opportunity to work with this dedicated team to co-design The Primary School's mental health component. We've taken many elements from our Unconditional Education model, such as tiered mental health systems that include social skills groups and intensive therapeutic services, and we've combined them with TPS's existing tier 1 systems and data collection tools. Our Seneca therapist, the fabulous Melinda Brown (featured staff this week!), currently provides social skills groups for 3-5 year-olds who were flagged by the SSIS (Social Skills Improvement System) screening tool. Beyond the data collection component, SSIS offers a robust SEL curriculum that Melinda uses in her group work. At the tier 1 level, TPS employs the Conscious Discipline framework, which emphasizes creating a safe, family atmosphere at school and supporting children in learning self-regulation strategies. We've incorporated these tenants and strategies into our Crisis De-Escalation training, consultation work, and other teacher-facing supports.
The newest addition to our work with TPS is our first SSA in East Palo Alto, Melanie Antonio! Melanie just started her work at the Primary School and is focusing on a few Kinder students who require intensive behavioral services. She will be providing milieu support, Check-In Check-Out, and targeted social skills groups. Are you curious about our early childhood superstars down in East Palo Alto? Reach out to Jonathan Barnett or Melinda Brown to set up a visit!
Four years ago, Seneca Washington began its Unconditional Education Partnership in the new charter school sector. Working collaboratively with schools in their first years of operation afforded the unique opportunity to build schools with the Unconditional Education Model from the beginning. Excel Public Charter School in Kent, Washington was one of the first. Families were excited for new and innovative approaches to education, and Excel delivers that through a focus on computational thinking, music education and college preparation.
In the first year, the academic diversity of the school population was both inspiring and overwhelming. To meet the academic needs of all students, highly capable programming as well as programming for moderate to severe disabilities would be necessary. How would we serve all students and meet their needs while keeping a commitment to create the most inclusive settings?
Students with significant disabilities are typically served in more restrictive settings. Nationally, 70% of students with significant disabilities are placed in classrooms and settings where they spend much of their day with other disabled peers. In the 2017-18 school year in the Washington Charter Sector, 74% of students with significant disabilities were served in the general education setting with their non-disabled peers for 80-100% of their school day.
With some creativity, curiosity, and a staff that was open and willing to try new things, Excel has created a very inclusive setting for its most impacted students. One of the most valuable resources has been training and continued support on accommodations and modifications. Using a graphic organizer to present to staff, the Special Education team worked through each level of accommodations and modifications. Having teachers bring work samples and creating workshop time was essential to making this a success. Special Education teachers also had drop in office hours on Mondays during teacher prep called “Modification Mondays.” Through continued professional development, classroom support, and weekly check ins, teachers gained new skills and strategies to modify their curriculum for all learners.
Recently, one of the founding scholars at Excel, who had previously been served in a more restrictive setting, was awarded at the scholar breakfast for his academic achievement. His teachers modified his curriculum to meet his needs and he is now confident in his own academic ability.
Every one of our students deserves to have access and support to learn. It’s our job to do our best with what we know and have to make that happen,
All-In! Partnership Team