On Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 Orca families and staff gathered in the cafeteria to hear about the new BSK grants that are funding 3 programs for the next 3 years to improve our school’s trauma-informed practices. After each program presented a short vision statement, community partners formed a panel to answer questions. The panel was a mix of amazing artists and educators representing The Intiman Theater, Rainier Arts Center, The Seattle Repertory Theater, Hugo House, Bridging Wisdom, Dandylyon Drama, Seattle Art Museum, and The Unspoken Truths Museum. Below are some of the key questions that arose during and after the meeting that are key for you to know as we embark on this journey with our young scholars!
What is BSK?
Best Starts for Kids is a voter-approved King County initiative that invests in comprehensive approaches to promoting healthier, more resilient children, youth, families and communities.
How did Orca get a BSK grant?
Last school year, head teacher Donte Felder made a proposal to begin a program called South End Stories: Healing through History & Creativity that would implement an arts-centered approach to promoting student health, resiliency, and engagement.
What are the specifics of the grant?
The South End Stories program is one of 32 BSK grant awardees throughout King County that received 3 years of funding to improve trauma-informed practices in schools. Our particular grant is for $300,000, which breaks down to $87,851 per year, after paying a portion to Seattle Public Schools for their financial sponsorship. The contract is finalized and awaiting the Superintendent’s signature.
What are trauma-informed practices, and how can we improve them?
First, we need to understand how trauma affects the Orca community. There are real structural inequities at our school and in our society that especially affect students who have experienced abuse, students with disabilities, students who have Independent Education Plans (IEPs), students from non-English speaking families, students of color, and students from low-income backgrounds. All of these issues can overlap, and it is critical that we address their intersections with racism and poverty.
Improving trauma-informed practices involves professional development training, student-centered lesson-planning, and community events that aim to nurture a greater sense of belonging among Orca students, families, and staff. We all belong when our diverse voices, learning styles, and histories are celebrated, and when the time and talents that we each have to offer are valued. To reach that day, we all must reflect on what we are personally doing to include, or exclude, members of our community.
Which other BSK programs are at Orca?
We.APP, PER&SS, and South End Stories are the 3 programs that received BSK grants to do amazing work at Orca. Our shared goal is to build an inclusive and supportive school environment, especially focusing on the formation of healthy relationships and quality, culturally-responsive learning. To achieve that goal, each program has a different approach and target group:
We.APP (We Act. Present. Perform.) is a public speaking class offered in Orca’s 4th and 5th grade classes, as well as in Mr. Bey’s and Ms. P’s middle school electives. We.APP’s Young Artist Academy (YAA) teaches young scholars to discover their unique voice and create original work that addresses issues such as: bullying, peer-pressure, self-esteem, leadership, social justice, disparity, equity, career goals, and diversity. These narratives combat silence to promote literacy and inclusion which are critical towards disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. In May 2019, Orca students in the YAA will demonstrate their newfound skills in the We.APP Annual Rising Voices Oratory Competition with participants from 4 other Seattle Public Schools.
PER&SS (Partners for Educational Reform & Student Success) will address trauma-informed practices, racism, equity and direct services including evaluation and assessments of programs for Orca 6th graders, and K-3 at Leschi and John Muir Elementaries. Key activities to support the instructional teams at all schools include: Partnership Development, curriculum development utilizing the American History Traveling Museum, Parent and Elder Program, Rituals utilizing Healing Circles, Professional Development for school staff, and Family recruitment and involvement.
South End Stories seeks to engage students, teachers, and families in conversations about identity, history, and the healing powers of art. During this first year, South End Stories is primarily working in the Orca middle school– connecting teachers with local artists, coordinating field trips, planning community events, and bringing in high-level equipment for inclusive and arts-based learning opportunities. Some of our Year 1 milestones include providing multiple professional development trainings to staff and families, supporting Bridging Wisdom’s weekly intergenerational mutual mentorship middle school program, attending a play at the Seattle Rep and afterwards engaging in a community talk session, coordinating monthly gatherings with the Race Forum at local restaurants to bring families, students, and community partners/artists into conversation about identity, history, and art, and finally putting on a Spring Social Justice Film Fest– showcasing our young scholars’ films and our community’s narratives about this year’s learning processes.
Who will make decisions about the development & delivery of South End Stories?
South End Stories is forming an advisory board of Orca families, staff, and students, that will continuously assess how our expenses, activities, and partnerships align with the program’s mission and milestones. Naomi True, program coordinator, is working directly with the middle schoolers to spark their enthusiasm and lift their voices so that they are deeply involved in these processes of development & delivery.
What about younger students?
Both South End Stories and PER&SS will fund professional development trainings for all K-8 staff. These trainings are central to fostering a more supportive all-school environment. Also, there will be a number of kid-oriented events that we hope all Orca families will attend, such as a 3rd grade music class ensemble performance, and the Drama Club’s Ghostbusters production!
South End Stories’ collaboration with the Bridging Wisdom program also has an elementary school component. Each semester, 4th grade classes will host an Elder story-sharing event about narratives of migration & protest, and 2nd graders will work with the Rainier Valley Food Bank all year. They will also get to visit the independent senior-living Esperanza House.
How are we addressing inclusion issues?
South End Stories is working in collaboration with the Inclusion Committee, and with Ms. Kate and Ms. Jennifer who teach students with disabilities in rooms 101 and 102. Equipment purchases will include accessible teaching tools like switches, which allow for increased communication and environmental control learning. Ms. Kate has emphasized how many possibilities these teaching tools could open for her students, which raises questions about district funding. By filling the gaps and sharing stories about what can happen when we address inequities, South End Stories has the potential to raise awareness of inclusion issues and to spark structural change.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) has offered some funding for accessible field trip transportation, while other partners committed to accommodate our accessibility needs. South End Stories is in contact with two local artists with disabilities, ET and Jake Prendez, who are both eager to lead art workshops at school that could lead to deeper inclusion discussions.
Why didn’t more teachers attend the meeting?
None of this can happen without the teachers’ buy-in, so we all need to reflect on how to collaborate with school staff while understanding the pressures they deal with.
What happens when BSK funding runs out?
Once we build these community partnerships at Orca, some can continue beyond the BSK grant’s limits thanks to organizations like SAM with their own funding. The key though is that all our work must push for structural change because the BSK grant money will inevitably run out.