- Engage Verde’s youth in creating intentional spaces for joy.
- Engage Verde’s community in culturally relevant art experiences, teaching self-expression through a healing centered approach that is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing.
- Continue to beautify Verde’s campus so students and parents feel proud of their school and community, especially after returning to school due to COVID closures.
Under the leadership of Unconditional Education Coach Yvonne Rogers, the Verde K-8 Stars were awarded The Neighborhood Public Art Grant by the Richmond Arts and Culture Commission for the third year in a row to fund a new art project! This year the theme is “To the Moon and Back.” The goal of the project would be to:
The project will consist of art created by Fred Alvarado, Keena Romano, and Enrique Carpio, inspired by Verde’s students and the visions that they have for their future. The mural will depict things that students share bring them joy. In addition, a mini documentary will be created to memorialize the creation of the mural. The documentary is meant to weave the journey of creating the mural and include interviews of Verde’s community members to share about what they do to bring joy into their lives, and how joy can encourage healing. Stay tuned for updates on the finished product!
Emiliano Zapata’s Street Academy is a unique place. They take an integrated approach to health, knowing that academic success is only achievable if students are well in the deepest sense. Their focus on social justice and emotional wellness are supported in part by our amazing Seneca therapist, Aurielle Zeitler. Aurielle has spent the past two years serving Street Academy’s students, families and staff. Since schools closed just over one year ago, Aurielle has been a lifeline for her students, meeting with them virtually one on one and in small groups to help them stay connected to their peers, teachers and academics.
In high school, students are exploring their identities and their interests, ultimately choosing pathways that will influence the course of their futures. At Street Academy, students not only take required classes, but also participate in a variety of internships that help them gain experience they can use in their future careers. This has been particularly challenging during COVID, and Aurielle has supported her students through this difficult time by providing a space for students to think, reflect and explore who they are and where they are headed.
Street Academy is a small, close-knit community - and school staff serve as counselor-teacher-mentors (CTM’s) to a small group of students. Aurielle often partners with CTM’s to “wrap” support around students to help them be successful overall. COVID and distance learning has taken its toll on the Street Academy community, but our partnership continues to thrive. Just recently, Aurielle returned to campus and several students came to school JUST to see her! The reunion was deeply meaningful by all accounts. We look forward to evolving with Street Academy in the years ahead!
The sharp staff at Washington Elementary (SJUSD) had a productive time participating in the 1st Annual Breakthru Bracket Challenge during the month of March. For those unfamiliar with the March Madness NCAA bracket challenge, allow me to explain how we celebrated our in-house intervention expertise.
First, for our staff professional development in early March, we all discussed the pathways to “breakthrus” with students exhibiting challenging behaviors. Most teachers, novice & seasoned, will experience that breakthrough moment with a challenging student. Usually, it is when an intervention is implemented by the teacher with such fidelity that a near immediate change is observed. Voila....a breakthru.
Four fictitious students were identified as displaying some trauma induced behaviors conducive to the current distance learning format. Teachers went into breakout rooms to contribute effective intervention strategies to address the behaviors outlined. Well, 4 breakout rooms each generated the top 4 strategies. This totaled the Sweet 16 of Breakthrus.
Teachers filled out their bracket, selecting winning interventions per matchup, just like anyone would complete a March Madness NCAA bracket. Unlike the NCAA tournament, we as a staff voted using online polling to vote for the winners per intervention matchups. From the Sweet 16 to the Elite 8 to the Final 4 --- to crowning the champion breakthru intervention. Each winning intervention matchup earned a participant a series of points. The teachers with the top 3 winning brackets, per points earned, received prizes. Even more impactful, is that now we not only have a champion level intervention strategy that represents a possible pathway to a breakthru for any students, but the staff has a ‘sweet 16’ to choose from for the future.
Our new partners in San Mateo, KIPP Valiant Community Prep, are launching back into in-person services. As a K-8 school of over 600 students, Valiant wisely chose to bring back a small pilot classroom of middle school students before opening more broadly.
Leveraging their existing MTSS structures, the team utilized their COST and Culture and Climate teams to plan universal and small group interventions for the students returning to campus. When this process was a smashing success, the Valiant team knew they were ready to scale up. Now with most of the elementary school students returning after spring break, the COST and Culture and Climate teams have sprung into action to plan team building activities, targeted SEL lessons, procedures for teaching classroom routines, and high leverage academic instruction blocks. With our fabulous UE Coach, Keri Stewart, at the helm, we know these plans are going to be airtight with the ability to flex and adapt to emerging needs. Gooooooooo, Valiant!
Despite the challenges we’ve faced during this 2020-21 academic year, Lighthouse Community Public Schools (LCPS) committed to meeting the needs of students and families using every tool at their disposal. Our collaborative student services teams have delivered Zoom parent training, social skills groups, drop-in sessions, advisory lessons, crisis intervention, family therapy and individual therapy. They have provided outreach and case management, and simultaneously wondered: who might we be missing, and how can we find them when we’re in distance learning?
Thus, LCPS decided to implement one of our Unconditional Education intervention tools at both of their East Oakland campuses. The tool is our Social Emotional Screener (SES). Rolling it out on both campuses was a first this year, as was implementing it during distance learning while in a pandemic.
The SES provides teachers a platform to reflect on their students’ social/emotional needs based on key indicators of health and wellness. The purpose of the SES is to use data to drive our interventions and help set our priorities: to shine the light where it is needed most. Through this screening process we may realize that a specific teacher has a classroom full of students who need support with focus and attention, or that a handful of students across classrooms have been socially isolating and could use some targeted social skills support. We go into the screening process with an open mind, and with the help of our amazing Assessment and Evaluation team, emerge with detailed reports. These help us build a collaborative plan for addressing the most pressing needs of our youth.
Lighthouse Lead Counselor Courtney Cerefice took lead on implementing the screener on the Lighthouse campus this year. I asked Courtney to share about the experience of using this tool during a pandemic, and what she learned in the process.
What motivated you to implement the Social Emotional Screener this year
We have used different versions of the socio-emotional screener in the past. Historically, we had used the screener to:
What did you do differently this time during a year of distance-learning? What did you have to consider implementing?
There was a lot of teacher feedback around difficulty targeting certain behaviors because students are not seen in the same way on Zoom as they are in a traditional in-person settings. Items such as "disordered eating" felt challenging for teachers to identify because this is a behavior that they may not have an opportunity to see.
We needed to spend a little more time with teachers to develop their understanding of what the screener is and what it is not. There was some reluctance to "diagnose children." There was lots of talk-through of the "behaviors" and "symptoms," and talking about how we can notice a behavior without turning that behavior into a diagnosis -- or worse, ascribing an identity to a child. This was a learning opportunity for our staff. A behavior is not an identity. Students are full-humans first and deserve to be seen this way.
With regards to the data that was returned to us, typically we would have looked at the data in teams (Deans, APs, etc.) and shared it out to the larger community. This needed to pivot this year. Scheduling time with our larger team was extremely challenging due to the many commitments these team members already hold. Instead, we chose to interpret the data as a clinical team and then share the recommendations out with our larger team. This is not ideal, but we recognized that waiting to get the data analyzed would potentially delay supports to staff that were very much needed.
What were you expecting from the screener? Were you surprised by the results?
The results were what we were hoping to see. Students with the greatest need had been previously identified and were mostly receiving services already. It has allowed us to pivot, look at Tier 1, and make learning offerings to our staff and families! Our teachers are accurately identifying the students that need the most support and we can take this time to create learning opportunities for our staff and families that further develop their ability to support students on all Tier levels.
What would you say to another school leader who has not implemented an SES tool before? Why and when should they do it, and what tips would you have for them?
The SES is best implemented over the course of the year and used as one piece of data (possibly in tandem with attendance, discipline, etc.). The socio-emotional strand is an area that can be tricky to deliberately gather data for. When there is not a specific socio-emotional screener being used, schools may use data that is one-off of actual socio-emotional data, then attribute that data to socio-emotional outcomes. This can be problematic (think about deciding that an attendance concern is socio-emotional when it could be due to any number of things, including childcare or transportation concerns, housing instability, etc.). Having a screening tool that targets visible behaviors allows teachers and staff to target items that they may not have previously considered to be worthy of noting or uplifting for support. It also encourages teachers to look for those behaviors that may be easier to overlook but can have significant socioemotional needs behind them. This particular screener is quick for teachers to complete and becomes easier as they continue to use it.
Seneca is proud to partner with so many schools in the Bay Area dedicated to providing an inclusive and holistic education experience for students. One such partner is Alternatives in Action High School (AIAHS) in Oakland, where we provide special education services within the context of their truly unique and responsive approach to schooling. AIAHS is a transformative school that serves to motivate youth to improve their own lives and build healthier communities. Being the first youth-initiated charter high school in the country, AIAHS provides a community in which students can partner with adults to work on their personal goals and growth.
AIAHS was originally founded by ten youth as the Bay Area School of Enterprise in February 2001. Through their partnership with local experts to design and petition for the school, they were able to receive a unanimous vote of approval by the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees. After passing this initiative on May 16, 2001, the school officially opened in September of that year. The school’s Charter was subsequently renewed again by unanimous vote of the Alameda Unified School Board in February of 2006, February 2011, and was renewed once more in November 2015. The school is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. At the start of the 2014-2015 school year, the high school relocated to East Oakland’s Seminary Neighborhood, where it will serve as the anchor for a vibrant new community: The Youth & Family Center.
AIAHS now has achieved nearly twenty years of experience and success in supporting students to graduate high school, and further prepare them to pursue colleges and careers to positively impact their communities. Since 2001, the school has made great strides in advancing marginalized students in their school culture and climate through combining diversity, social justice, and increasing access to higher education:
“I came here because this school is different from other, normal high schools. AIAHS showed me that I can be a leader and actually make changes in the school if I feel like we need changes. This school showed me that I have a voice and the coaches can hear me … AIAHS has helped me change into a better person and a person who can lead.” Jazmine Hernandez, Class of 2018
To better understand AIAHS, watch this short news feature. and continue reading Great School Voices overview of their inspiring journey.
This week we are highlighting our partnership with J.O. Ford Elementary (Ford), a school devoted to culturally diverse community education.
Ford is in Richmond, CA serving students in grades TK-6th grade as the proud home of the Cougars. Here, our UE Coach Jenna Evans and Bilingual Clinical Intervention Specialist, Kendra Muscarella, work in partnership with Ford to provide student services. Ford is in its 5th year of implementing the Unconditional Education (UE) Model and is one of the longest standing partners in WCCUSD. Despite the challenges and barriers presented by the COVID-19 Pandemic and virtual education, Ford has remained steadfast in supporting their student, caregiver, and staff communities by keeping true to the Ford Mission: Students connect academics to the real world and develop critical thinking skills through individualized instruction and supports to meet their unique needs. This fosters an environment of community, perseverance, and kindness.
Ford’s virtual Black History Month Assembly that was held in February is just one recent example of the school’s dedication to supporting and fostering community. The assembly, coordinated by our very own UE Coach, Jenna Evans, consisted of different student performances and artwork displays, ending with a talk by local bay area artist, Tiffany Conway. Holding true to the Unconditional Education Model, the assembly began with a review of the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) expectations to help root attendees in the following practices of the meeting: “Show Respect”, “Make Good Decisions’, and “Fix Problems.”
See below for some Ford Elementary Black History Month Assembly Highlights:
Video Introduction of the Black National Anthem by students from P.S. 316, Elijah Stroud Elementary School
Room 22 Presentation: What does this song mean to me - “I Can’t Breathe"
Local Bay Area Artist: Tiffany Conway
This week, we are highlighting our partnership with Lazear Charter Academy, a school devoted to “being the change you want to see!”
Lazear Charter Academy is in the Fruitvale neighborhood in East Oakland and serves grades Transitional Kindergarten – 8th. Lazear provides rigorous instruction and offers an extraordinary Science, Technology, Art, Engineering and Math (STEAM) program. The Lazear community is driven by love and connection while focused on developing the whole person through fostering students, their families, and school staff. Lazear has strived to develop a vigorous multi-tiered system which supports students growing academically, socially, and emotionally. This model promotes lifelong learners who develop critical thinking skills, create modern results to intricate challenges, and express ideas assertively.
The world has been forced to modify learning practices and community building for the past 11 months, and the Lazear community has established innovative ways to maintain connection. Through teamwork and collaboration, the Wildcat Family provides pertinent and profound ways to stay connected during Distance Learning. The Wildcats have been successful in maintaining community through:
In this week’s blog post, I’m happy to introduce our partnership with Gabriella Charter Schools, a network of two community charter schools serving the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Echo Park and Historic South Central. Gabriella Charter Schools were born out of the success of an after-school dance program, which was created in memory of the founder’s daughter who loved to dance. Inspired by the program’s success and in response to parent demand, Gabriella Charter School was opened in 2005 with a curriculum that paired rigorous academic work with daily dance classes required for all students. A second campus was opened in 2017.
Based on the success of his work at Gabriella’s Echo Park campus last year, our Behavior Interventions Coach Darrell Lane was asked to support Gabriella’s second campus this year in a part-time role. Like everyone else, we had to get creative in figuring out how to best support Gabriella’s students in the virtual world—but after some initial brainstorming, Darrell has settled into the following roles:
We will continue to monitor and adapt these roles as the year progresses and changes continue to surface. Overall, though, we have so appreciated the passion and commitment of the Gabriella staff, and feel lucky to have found partners with whom we feel so aligned.
Wow, it's February? How did that happen?!?! That the school year is halfway over is probably just one of the many things that is hard to believe right now. Who would have thought a year ago, when we were reviewing the mid-year feedback from our schools and partners, that the work we do, the lives we live, and the world we know would be so fundamentally different today?
This time of year is traditionally used to step back and reflect on how things are going, and given the year we’ve all had, this could not be more important. Our staff have worked tirelessly to collaborate with schools and families to push the bounds of what is possible and redefine how this work is done in the virtual realm. Our UE Mid-Year Survey is conducted through the month of January and helps highlight our successes and, equally important, areas for improvement. These help us to focus our intentions through the end of the year.
Despite the challenges of connectedness and engagement during remote learning, we are excited to report participation in our survey held similar to last year’s reports: almost 90% of partner schools (so far) participated in the survey, with over 540 individual responses!
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:
This year, both questions averaged above our goal of 80% at 94% and 86% respectively! We are very excited by these positive responses; especially given the challenges this year has presented as both our staff and teachers have had to reinvent the ways that lessons are taught, and how staff-support is provided. There is a lot to celebrate here in the strength, skill, and perseverance of these teams.
Data collection and reporting continues to be a program priority this year and is no small task. Teachers, behaviorists, and clinicians have had to rethink how to capture, track and monitor progress data, working closely with students and families to rethink goals and measures that are both applicable to the virtual setting and meaningful as measures of progress. If this wasn't enough, they have also had to contend with the layers of scheduling and technological access barriers in collaborating with entire teams to share the goals being set and the progress being seen. Excitingly this is an area where, at this mid-year point, we saw an increase to 78%, up from 73% last year, and just shy of our goal for the year of at least 80%, which we are hopeful to hit in our End-of-Year Surveys!
The numbers themselves, while guiding and celebratory, don't offer the complete picture. We also ask for specific feedback and suggestions on our partnerships. In reviewing the constructive feedback this year, an interesting trend emerged: our partners want more. They want to know more about what the students are working on, they want to know more about how they can continue to collaborate as a team, they want to know more about our services and how we can continue to support staff, students, and families.
Here are some pieces of feedback we’ve received from partners:
“I would be open to check in with support staff and ways I could support the work Seneca is doing with our students.”
While we seek and value constructive feedback, the open-ended responses were overwhelmingly positive, indicating that we are on the right track in our work to build collaborative, meaningful and supportive practices. We look forward to hearing from our partners again during our End-of-Year Partnership Survey.
While we wait, here are just a few of the incredible highlights shared from the year so far:
“Our [Seneca] counselor shows great energy when teaching a lesson to my students. The positive words he uses on his presentations, motivates students to participate in his class. Kids really like him.”
And I could go on and on.............................
All-In! Partnership Team