March 5 2018

There’s one word to describe the feeling of the Building Healthy Communities’ School Convening in February: “ENERGY!”

The Del Norte County and Tribal Lands (DNATL) contingent of community members, parents, BHC staff and school officials returned home after the one-day meeting in Oakland bristling with renewed energy and inspiration about how to continue improving our schools.

“This shared learning was amazing. I could have sat at this convening for three more days, listening, learning and brainstorming,” said Caryn Cleland, who serves more than 500 students as a school counselor at Crescent Elk Middle School. “I am very thankful I was asked to be a part of this. I learned so much about Building Healthy Communities and The California Endowment.”

Cleland and her fellow team members from Del Norte County met with statewide policy experts and advocates from other BHC sites to discuss important school-related issues, such as mental health, discipline reform, literacy and parent engagement.

“I learned a lot about what our statewide partners are doing and the resources that are available,” said Ryan Kober, BHC’s collaborative facilitator for education and resiliency in Del Norte County. “I also learned how other BHC sites are engaging parents in key issues and projects.”

The Oakland event was the last of three convenings sponsored by The California Endowment and facilitated by the nonprofit organization Partnership for Children and Youth. The DNATL team enjoyed brainstorming with their BHC peers and exploring common goals and challenges.

Getting parents involved in the policymaking process was a common challenge, in both urban and rural areas. It can be difficult for working families to take time out of their busy days to advocate with elected officials, and it can be even harder to persuade those leaders to take parents’ concerns seriously.

Creating a safer and more equitable school climate was another priority shared across BHC sites. BHC partners and education leaders have made great progress in Del Norte, and the team was excited to share some its most successful strategies.

Several years ago, Del Norte Unified implemented Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) to improve school climate and reduce classroom disruptions, and it has been a huge success! Student suspensions have dropped 30 percent in the last five years, and there’s an overall feeling of calmness and security in our schools. At some Del Norte County schools, students are welcomed with a greeting in the Native American Yurok language, which helps everyone feel valued.

Advocates participating in the convening also agreed that districts need to provide more services in schools, especially when it comes to meeting students’ mental health needs. The Del Norte County team was especially excited that the California School-based Health Alliance was at the convening to share its toolkits for improving mental health services on campus. We learned about so many resources and funding sources!

We were also thrilled to connect with our colleagues from around the state and are grateful to the Partnership for Children and Families for facilitating this convening. Local advocates are already pursuing some of the ideas generated at the event and are working hard to make our schools safer and healthier places to learn and work.

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