Like most students across the country, the Washington Elementary community also began their 2020-21 Academic School year virtually from home. Starting the year with distance learning meant that Leadership had to be creative and think out of the box to keep students connected to school – all whilst maintaining a strong sense of community. Research has shown that creating a sense of belonging and building relationships is critical to ensure students remain engaged and enthusiastic learners. While everything about back-to-school was different, we wanted to create a sense of normalcy by translating our regular routines and practices into virtual platforms. So, we implemented our Monday Morning Announcement videos! The videos were a great way for everyone to start the week with the same message and have opportunities to participate in different challenges and activities as a whole school.
Our Monday Morning Announcement videos have become the catch-all for maintaining consistent connection (virtually) and encouraging our students to be academically motivated and committed to school. We have introduced fun reading challenges for all grade levels and have students submit fun videos with books reviews. We have also used this opportunity to bring the campus to our students – even though they cannot physically be on campus. Each week we reinforce our Dragon values and encourage students to demonstrate our characteristics of being Resilient, Flexible, Empathetic, Persistent and Optimistic. Here is a sample of our Monday Morning Announcements:
The Monday Morning Announcements are the highlight of the week for a lot our students, and we are seeing more and more participation from our Dragon Heroes. Our discussion forum on the announcements is a great place for students to motivate and encourage their peers to work hard and spread joy. The weekly announcements have also helped us achieve our AIP goal of increasing school pride and incorporating more student voice-and-choice in our decision-making processes. Creating this feeling of belonging by fostering school-wide connections between teachers, students and administrators has truly enhanced our virtual learning experience, and hence, we would love to hear from you too! Please share your great ideas for community building and fostering connection during distance in the comments below.
The All-In Leadership Team has committed to reflecting on their personal and professional perpetuation of White Supremacy culture while unlearning and relearning how to dismantle oppressive systems within our program and teams. Through this, we have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to bring equity to the forefront of our work.
Historically, the Behavioral Leadership Team has planned their Professional Learning Community’s scope and sequence for the upcoming school year during the previous summer. This systematic planning consisted of coordinating the facilitation of professional development training with other leaders in our program.
This year, in attempt to build an inclusive environment focused on equity, our Behavior Leadership Team began to dive into dismantling and disrupting White Supremacy culture within our Professional Learning Community. We have applied strategies to shift dynamics of White Supremacy Culture in our work based on Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun’s 15 Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture.
The Behavioral Team acknowledges both the spoken and unspoken norms that exist within our strand, and we are working on a collaborative approach that will push us forward, shifting:
In shifting those norms, we have:
White dominant culture has been adopted by many of us through spoken and unspoken norms. Both have contributed to my personal social identity and how I navigate spaces as a Black woman. To increase the eradication of White Supremacy Culture, the Behavioral Strand continues to attend and encourage others to attend development opportunities facilitated by BIPOC people.
Here are a few resources that I have enjoyed reading. Take a look and leave a comment if you’ve read any, or plan on reading any in the future:
Since the start of March our lives have changed dramatically. We’ve shifted our daily routines, the ways in which we interact and connect with others, and how we are able to nourish and sustain our own wellbeing. Many in our communities have lost loved ones, confronted illness, juggled work and family responsibilities, and mustered the resources to make ends meet. Schools, which often serve as a central hub for family support, made an overnight transition to virtual learning. They have had to identify new systems and routines for instruction, connection, and resource delivery all while school personnel negotiate the impact of the changing world in their own lives. Further, the impact of this pandemic and the concurrent national conversation on police violence against the Black community has highlighted the ways in which deep systemic inequities reach across our institutional systems, from health care to criminal justice to education. What is clear is that grand changes are needed in both the short and long term to build more equitable systems.
Through all of these changes what has remained steadfast is our commitment to building systems of education that are strong and inclusive, even in the face of tremendous adversity. Grounded in Seneca’s longstanding mission of connecting with individuals and families during difficult times, we have taken what we know about responding to periods of crisis and applied these same principles to support schools in adapting their practices to the virtual context. We are thrilled to release this piece Implementing Unconditional Education in a Virtual Setting where we have captured what we have learned by working with over 40 schools and districts through this transition to remote learning. This piece is intended to act as a companion to Unconditional Education: Supporting Schools to Serve All Students articulating the adaptations required in the implementation of this framework for a blended or remote learning setting. It aims to highlight how during periods of struggle we can find grounding in the formative beliefs and values that drive our work - our belief in the power of relationship, the collective capacity of teams, and our ability to reach a shared vision when we’ve identified clear goals. In addition, it provides practical considerations for the modification of essential coordination and assessment procedures that drive a multi-tiered system of care. Our hope is to share lessons learned with others who are building systems to support all students, and the adults in their lives, in finding wellness and hope in this challenging time.
The end of the school year should be filled with celebrations and happy memories, but for many of our students this year, that was not the case. Due to the shelter in place, our students who worked hard and achieved their promotions to middle school & high school were not able to participate in their promotion ceremonies. We could not let these huge milestones go uncelebrated and decided to deliver promotion packages to our students at Bridges Academy, Community Day School, Lincoln Middle School, Prescott Elementary School, Sequoia Elementary School, and Think College Now.
School teams gathered together, decorated their cars, made posters, and caravanned to each of our promoting students houses. Staff played music, honked their horns, and cheered loudly as we drove past each student’s house. When we stopped, students were presented with their celebratory package that included balloons, apple cider, a cake, and snacks. In total, the SOAPS Program was able to celebrate 13 students across our 6 campuses with promotion parades and 5 students with promotion cake deliveries. These parades not only showed our students how proud we are of them, but also allowed for community members to celebrate the students as well. At almost every house, neighbors came outside to cheer our students on, and cars drove past us honking and yelling “congratulations”. The support we received from community members as we drove through the streets of Oakland was truly inspiring and showed our students that they are valued and celebrated.
EdSource recently explored the narratives and challenges of student wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic in their ongoing podcast series, “This Week in California Education.” Tune in and listen to our very own Executive Director of School Partnerships, Robin Detterman, as she shares how staff at Seneca are responsively shifting their practice to ensure students stay connected to the mental health services during this time of remote learning (starting at the 10 minute mark). We want to offer a huge shout out to our team members and all mental health practitioners across the nation who are striving to ensure that all students and families remain connected to community and opportunities for wellness. We appreciate you!
Happy February! It's hard to believe that the school year is more than halfway over. Time flies when you're having fun, right? At this time of year, we like to take a breath, step back and ask our partners for feedback on how things are going within our partnerships. The UE Mid-Year Survey is conducted through the month of January and gives us a good read on how things are going. This feedback highlights our successes and areas for improvement, helping us to focus our intentions through the end of the year.
This year, our surveys yielded some exciting feedback about our partnerships so far. The first highlight we saw in the data spoke to the development of both our practices over time and how we have embedded ourselves in the schools we are partnered with. We saw an increase in the number of schools that participated in the survey from 69% in 2019 to 97% this year with over 500 individual respondents! #Together
The Mid-Year Partnership Survey asks our partners how we are doing with components of the UE Model related to Culture and Climate, Direct Services and Progress Reporting. For students receiving direct services at our school sites we asked our partners two questions:
As one of the three main program goals for the 2019-2020 school year, data collection and progress reporting has been on everyone's minds this year. A lot of time, effort and attention has been given this year across our Academic, Behavioral and Clinical teams to develop and implement effective, meaningful practices within their partnership sites. At this mid-year point, we were curious if progress and outcome reports were shared and used for collaboration during meetings with service providers and found that 73% of respondents agreed that they were! While the goal for the year is at least 80% agreement, we celebrate that this is up from 68% this time last year and embrace this forward momentum headed into the second half of the year. #Datatellsastory
All these numbers, while exciting and informative, don't tell the whole story. We also ask our partners for specific feedback and suggestions on how we collaborate and support the growth of our partnerships. This year, aside from being overwhelmingly positive, we noticed a very interesting shift in the qualitative feedback we received. There was a very clear trend this year of school staff expressing a desire for continued collaboration and progress sharing so that they are more able to support the growth of their students. We love seeing this constructive feedback, as it exemplifies the mindset that we are trying to build at partnerships schools, that all students are the responsibility of all staff. #Twofer
We are looking forward to hearing from all our partners again during our End-of-Year Partnership Survey. Without feedback and collaboration from our partners, we couldn't do what we set out to do. While we wait, here are some more partnership highlights from the year so far #Together:
Behavioral Strand Highlight
In All In, growth-mindset is part of our culture. In individual and group supervision, we are constantly discussing personal and professional growth opportunities as a result of this work.
As we wrapped up 2019, the Behavioral Strands Leadership Team hosted a Seneca Career Fair. The objective of the career fair was to provide the Behavioral Team, specifically our Student Support Assistants an opportunity to meet, actively engage with, and learn from their fellow Senecans about various career tracks held within Seneca Family of Agencies. On the panel of participants were an array of representatives for positions including, but not limited to:
As we enter into 2020, “Stay Interviews" have begun. We use this interview format to inquire about plans and professional development goals for next school year. The majority of our All-In Student Support Assistants are motivated to pursue higher learning opportunities, with the hope of staying with or returning to Seneca as a Teacher, Therapist, or Data Evaluator. Additionally, many of our Student Support Assistants have followed up with Career Fair representatives to further discuss their goals and plans for moving in that direction, which is AWESOME!!
So, be on the lookout for our amazing Behavioral Team. They have some aspiring teachers and therapists on the rise. Some are looking forward to starting grad school Fall 2020 and others are exploring potential Universities for Fall 2021. As Eric Thomas said, “When you find your why, you find a way to make it happen.”
Clinical Strand Highlight @ Education for Change
The EFC Clinical Strand has had a busy first half of the school year. For our new clinicians, it was a process of learning all the ins and outs of the Clinical Intervention Specialist role: integrating into a new school site, developing a caseload, creating relationships with clients, caregivers and school partners, finding time to do documentation and finding time for self-care. For clinicians who returned to their sites, they built on continuity with clients and school partners while also adapting to ever evolving school-wide needs, a reminder that each school year is unique. Through it all, our Clinical Team’s consistency and commitment to our clients, their families and capacity building with school partners has been outstanding. Their work embodies the foundation of Unconditional Education and is truly inspiring to witness.
As we all know, data is one of the most powerful tools to inform, engage, and create opportunities for growth and also helps us make connections that lead to insights and improvements. Thus, Increasing progress monitoring efforts has been a huge focal point this year for the Clinical Team, incorporating quantitative data with qualitative data to deepen the narrative of client experiences in connection with our #datatellsastory launch.
Whether connecting progress to a change in intervention or connecting a step back with a new stressor and then adjusting it, the ultimate goal is to track progress and share it meaningfully with clients and all stakeholders involved. The first months have been a learning process of navigating data collecting systems, finding ways to incorporate progress monitoring into already busy schedules, and writing meaningful goals that can be realistically tracked but with great momentum, the Clinical Strand has taken on this work head on and are looking forward to incorporating progress monitoring more seamlessly into future collaboration opportunities! Way to go team!
All-in’s Department of Strategic Initiatives has been working hard to think about the dissemination of our model and approach with a broader community. In that vein, I have been afforded the opportunity to work closely with our internal lead training team (Jason Keppe, Jordan Ullman, William Chiang) to codify our existing systems and structures to better support the coordination of trainings for our partners and think about how to extend the great work that is already happening in the area of training and development.
In this endeavor I have been amazed to see how far our training content has been developed over the years and how much expertise exists within our program. So far this school year All-in staff have facilitated 32 training sessions. Here is a snapshot of the types of trainings and some summative data on how others experienced the training sessions:
Part of this work has also led me to think about the ways in which we can continue to support the growth of staff who facilitate learning journeys for others on school campuses across our program. As well as think about how we can establish structures for continuing to iterate on existing content to ensure they are current and continue to be designed with an equity lens.
Those of us who are given the opportunity to guide learning for others have a tremendous opportunity to create spaces for others to think, reflect, draw new conclusions or confirm existing beliefs. Recently, I have been thinking about what conditions are necessary for others in order to do their best learning.
Here is an article that offers a take on the important factors that influence change in practice:
I’d love to hear more about what you think is important for you or others to do their best learning together.
Curiosity & Joy in Action: Students with Complex Learning Needs Promote Trans-disciplinary collaboration at Impact Puget Sound Elementary
At Impact Puget Sound Elementary (Impact PSE), part of the Washington specialist team [made up of occupational therapist, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, and school psychologists] has had the opportunity to put Seneca values into action. This fall, a student with very high needs enrolled in the public charter school. This child is non-verbal, does not use assistive technology, and has decreased muscle strength and tone. The specialist team supporting her at Impact includes myself (an Occupational Therapist), our speech language pathologist, Ashley Contreras-France, and Lee Butler, Lead Learning Specialist.
While “new” children with high needs can often cause us as professionals to feel overwhelmed, this child in particular forced us to work through the unknown and go back to basics. We became curious about her postural strength, her abilities to sit in a chair, on the carpet, to access the playground, to use the washrooms at school, and how she could best communicate with the world around her. We were curious about how she was seeing and interacting with the world, and what we could to support her in her new school.
As the least experienced therapist on our Impact Team, I used my own curiosity to learn as much as I could from Ashley about similar complex and medically fragile patients she had worked with in the past. Together, we were able to draw plans for a specialized seating system for the child that would support her in a school-sized chair. With Ashley’s help, I refined the design, spent a LOT of time at the Home Depot, and created a very special prototype chair. The first time we trialed it with her, she participated 6 times longer than without the chair! Previously, she had only been able to sit upright while engaging in therapy tasks for 2 minutes demonstrating fatigue! The student has demonstrated such pure and obvious joy with her increased participation, and this has been such a big reward for all of us.
In the realm of communication, Ashley used her expertise, curiosity, respect, and cultural humility to determine a consistent means of communication while respecting the parent’s wishes (non electronic technology was preferred). Ashley developed a communication book for the student that she is now working on using daily. Using this tool, she has been able to request items for therapy and in class, and communicate when she needs a break, or when she needs to use the washroom.
Ashley and I have worked closely with Lee Butler to ensure that the student is supported in all aspects of her special education. Lee has created interventions to support the student in the classroom, and is constantly ensuring that she has access to all facilities and materials that are appropriate for her learning and developmental level. Together as a team, we have created interventions that support the student’s IEP goals, and probed for data in a dynamic and creative way. It took the skill, quick thinking, and hard work of three highly skilled adults to probe the student for alphabet letter recognition!
This student has made me realize and appreciate how returning to the foundation of my knowledge, adapting the environment, and collaborating across disciplines are essential to student success and outcomes. Impact PSE has supported us by providing the time and space to work with this student, listening when we made recommendations about seating and communication and equitable access to all facilities. While curiosity began this adventure, it has definitely brought each of us profound joy as we see growth and success each day.
If you happen to be visiting Seneca Family of Agencies' Center for Training and Education (aka: “The Rock”) and poke your head into classroom #2 (the All-in! hub), you will likely find a number of amazing staff working tirelessly to ensure that students in the Bay and beyond experience Unconditional Education. While many of these staff members are visiting Rock to participate in a professional learning community, supervision, or a collaborative meeting, there are a handful of staff who call classroom #2 their home, including the Unconditional Education Strategic Initiatives Team.
What is the Unconditional Education Strategic Initiatives Team?
This team works centrally to support the vision and values of Unconditional Education through efforts to sustain high-quality programs and support growth and scale of the work within California and beyond. Together, the team supports our Unconditional Education program’s implementation, assessment, and story-telling efforts by focusing on three core practices:
Implementation and Adaptive Integration
Articulating what it means and looks like to “do UE” while allowing for the adjustments that will ensure we are responsive to each unique school community.
Evaluation and Assessment
Collecting the data and stories we need to improve practice and demonstrate growth and success.
Telling our story to all stakeholders including families and partner staff, school leaders, county partners, funders, and policy makers.
Who Are We and What We Do?
Sonya Benavides Assistant Director of Model Implementation
Sonya supports program initiatives focused on articulating the “what” and the “how” of Unconditional Education and partners with program leadership to build capacity for adaptive integration so that our programs are responsive to the individual school context. Sonya is currently leading the ION pilot, in hopes that we can develop and implement a database that is more responsive to the needs of our program. She supports capacity building by training schools in the foundations of UE and supporting them to adapt our practices to their school needs. Sonya is also honored to be participating in the Leading for Equity Fellowship with the National Equity Project to ensure our work continues to be grounded in the value of equity.
Jordan Ullman Assistant Director of Assessment and Evaluation
Jordan collaborates with program leadership to design tools and processes that help staff use data to drive their decisions about student services and to tell the stories of the schools, youth, and families they serve. He works behind the scenes with data from across schools, compiling, analyzing, and creating reports that communicate program outcomes and model fidelity on a broader scale.
Jenny Ventura- Director of Model Implementation and Assessment
Jenny works to provide leadership and support to the Strategic Initiatives Team and partners with the Executive Director and program directors to ensure that we sustain high-quality programs and strategically scale the Unconditional Education model. She supports the process of securing funding for the work, partnering with external evaluators to formally assess its impact (and hopefully get UE qualified as an evidence-based practice!), and sharing the story of UE with external audiences via conferences, tours, social media, and press opportunities.
William Chiang- Unconditional Education Project Manager
William supports all our strategic initiative efforts. From the organization, planning and preparation of strategic tours and events, to supporting project management for our evaluation and assessment practices, William is intricately involved in supporting the smooth functions of the SI team. William also partners with the agency’s Digital Communications Manager to ensure that we have an impactful presence on social media.
Supporting UE’s Annual Program Goals
In our roles and through our focus on implementation, assessment, and story-telling we offer support to the rest of the Unconditional Education family in our collective efforts to meet this year’s program goals:
#Together : Embedding Ourselves in The School Communities We Support
Focusing on adaptive integration to ensure coherent service delivery for students and efficient processes for staff.
#DataTellsAStory : Using Data to Drive Our Decisions and Celebrate Our Successes
Using data in driving our decisions to mitigate unconscious bias and highlight successes that might otherwise be overlooked.
#Twofer: Articulating How Our Interventions Can Maximize Our Secondary Impact
Exploring and implementing how we can simultaneously promote prevention/early intervention and build the capacity of others while providing Unconditional Education interventions.
Our team is honored to support the work happening every day in our partnership schools. If you have ideas on how we can continue to improve implementation, assessment, and story-telling practices, please feel free to shoot us an email or stop by classroom #2 to share your ideas!
All-In! Partnership Team