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Safe Schools yields lasting benefit

Emily Opbroek, center, and Andrew Oldfield were among the class of seventh grade students engaged in "breaking the ice" on the first day of school in Mike Holeman's math enrichment class at The Dalles Middle School Wednesday afternoon.

Emily Opbroek, center, and Andrew Oldfield were among the class of seventh grade students engaged in "breaking the ice" on the first day of school in Mike Holeman's math enrichment class at The Dalles Middle School Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Mark Gibson.

Now that the $2.7 million Safe Schools Healthy Students grant has officially ended, some local programs will be disappearing while others will be sustained by other sources.

“We really talked about sustainability … we were able to upgrade the surveillance systems, and capacity-building things like that will stay in place for a long time,” grant director Trudy Townsend said. She said she was most sad to see the Kinder Connections program go, but she just couldn’t come up with the money to keep the preschool going. Project Alert, where high school students visit the younger grades to talk about the dangers of drugs, has also been defunded. Various after school programs will also go away, and free counseling sessions for students will no longer be provided.

However, Townsend said the structure is still in place to provide the same therapy opportunities for students. Mental health partners will no longer be able to provide the services for free but do have payment plans for low-income students.

Infrastructure improvements such as new surveillance cameras will remain, and Townsend said the grant also paid for a lot of training that will continue to benefit students.

For example, the Girls Circle, an anti-bullying initiative that brings at-risk girls together, will continue. The program has received recognition on a national and local level for producing positive outcomes.

The Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports model, which has been credited with a drop in referrals and detentions at district schools, will also remain in place now that the grant has paid for the training and start-up costs. And community partners will still use the Sanctuary Model, which is meant to help communities heal from trauma and move forward in a healthy way. Townsend said the biggest lasting benefit of the Safe Schools Healthy Students grant is the systemic changes that took place.

“I definitely think the biggest impact it had is on how the entire social services delivery system functions,” she said.

The grant brought together a “core team” that included the schools, law enforcement, mental health providers, the juvenile department and the Department of Human Services. Townsend said the regular core meetings have helped the group work together much more effectively than ever before, so much so that they plan on continuing their meetings even though they are no longer required to do so.

“We’re going to keep collaborating about systemic change,” Townsend said. “If we talk about an incident we debrief not based on the individual event but based on the system, asking ‘Where did the system fail?’”

Surveys administered yearly from the time the grant was awarded show that rates of teen alcohol use and marijuana use have gone down, as have the total number of discipline referrals to the school office.

The number of middle and high school students who have gotten into a physical fight on school property in the last 12 months went from 20 percent in 2009 to 12 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. The number of students who said they missed school in the past 30 days because they were afraid for their safety went down from 11.2 percent in 2009-2010 to 8.6 percent in 2013-2021.

Townsend said the grant was extremely successful, not just in terms of data but in broader systemic changes that have improved the community, the schools and the way social services are delivered.

“We really did just knock it out of the park. It’s been a true success overall,” she said.

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