Out from the hallways, into the classrooms

New Holly community members urged Seattle City and King County Councilmembers, and one Seattle School Board member, to reduce how often schools use suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary measures. Frustration boiled from every corner of the overflowing public forum, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Education not Criminalization of our Youth. The community knows that youth of color are being disproportionately punished in school in ways that undermine their ability to succeed in the future. The school-to-prison pipeline, a reality in which zero-tolerance school disciplinary measures perpetuate future youth incarceration – particularly, youth of color – justifies the frustration.

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Fremont Fair parade banner illustrating the school-to-prison pipeline

Solid Ground President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr., the former Executive Director of Rainier Scholars, says, “The community has known for a long time there was a problem. The municipal and county leaders know there’s a problem. The school district knows there’s a problem, and the data that comes from both the school district and government validates that there is a problem.” With recognition coming from all levels that Seattle schools’ disciplinary structures are dangerously flawed, last week’s forum felt several decades overdue.

Schools, and for that matter the criminal justice system, often rely on punitive justice as opposed to restorative justice, says McHenry, Jr. The referral-suspension-expulsion disciplinary hierarchy takes students out of the classroom and compounds underlying behavioral issues with falling behind in class. Hallways, detention rooms, and youth prisons are all educationally broken environments that sentence students to insurmountable education gaps long after the actual punishment ends.

The community feels suspensions and expulsions should be measures of last resort, necessitated only when physical or emotional safety is at risk. Not looking the teacher in the eye, wearing jeans too low, or other behavioral missteps are better handled as teaching opportunities than justifications for dismissal.

Zero-tolerance policies for poor behavior inherently target certain groups because behavior is dictated by a student’s circumstances. A student who acts out in class because he sleeps in a car and can’t afford breakfast has as much right to equitable education as a student coming from more stable living conditions. McHenry, Jr. argues the goal for education is to “enable educators to educate all youth – not just the model youth that come from a stable home, [are] well fed, and have one or both parents employed.”

More inclusive schools can directly lessen the school-to-prison pipeline. Correlations between how far students get in school and incarceration rates confirms that by developing students’ knowledge, skills and cultural awareness, schools help keep youth out of prison. Although, the schools’ primary responsibility is to teach core subjects, the school has an additional responsibility for fostering a positive environment due to the dominant role they play in children’s lives.

The disconnect between what we assign our schools to do and their unacceptable failure to educate some students also stems from lack of resources. School funding to meet the mandated basic education requirements is not sufficient for supporting a culturally and economically diverse student body, says McHenry, Jr.

Ideally, teachers could create in-the-moment lessons for behavior misconduct that keeps disruptive students in the classroom. This might be as simple as a student learning to recognize their inappropriate behavior, or maybe more comprehensive action including apologies or community service. Policymakers and communities have the onus of getting teachers the support they need so they can productively address disruptive students while still continuing to teach to the entire class.

As one teacher mentioned in the forum, we need to pull students out from the hallways and into the classrooms if we want them to believe that’s where they belong. Forcing students out of learning is educationally and psychologically destructive. Hallways turn into detentions which turn into prisons. Equitable access to quality education is a critical first step to ending poverty. We owe them that.

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Sand Point Housing’s young artists

Eleven young artists discovered the Officer’s Club at the Magnuson Park Gallery. This former office of a naval commander became a worksite for young residents of Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing community. These teens now look out the window to see the fruition of their own leadership – 12 vibrant art panels breathing life back into a decrepit brick building.

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Eight finished panels installed on one side of the building.

The Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange (SPACE) has long sought a solution for the slowly deteriorating building across from the gallery. With the City of Seattle investing funds to stabilize it, and future development projects expected, installing art panels on the exterior walls provides an immediate solution for threading cultural value into the building. The Department of Neighborhoods’ substantial contribution and the Seattle Parks and Recreation staff and financial help made hiring a contractor and art teacher feasible. The 11 teens infused the spirit of their community into the artwork.

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Sand Point youth paints the corner of a panel.

The teaching artist, Angela Larsen, implemented a process that promised a professional product while staying true to the young artists’ vision and work. The teens began their project by exploring color palettes, and learning how to adjust color shades by mixing paint. They then walked through the park, finding inspiration in plant textures and nature’s own artwork. Angela combined the feedback from the kids, and her own Scandinavian design ethic, and created a design outline that exclusively used three shades of green and three shades of red. In the coming four Saturdays, the young artists put paint to panel and brought the design plan to fruition.

As all good work deserves, the young artists will be paid a $150 stipend at a celebratory barbecue in the near future. However, that paycheck does not fully represent the value the panel project provides to the community and the participants. The Executive Director of SPACE, Julianna Ross, observed “how their skills improved from the first session to the last session. They knew how to load the brush, and make the lines… they gained some skills!” She commented on the warranted pride many of the teens felt for the panels. Working so many hours on the panels familiarized the resident teens with the gallery building and other areas they had not known existed. Showcasing their artwork on a main street bridges a comfort gap between the families living in the park and the community park buildings.

The young artists look up at the paintings and recognize that it’s their work, that they made it for the community. If you can afford their rate, enlist them in another mural project. Their paint brushes are ready.

COMPARED TO WHAT?

Poetry zine gives voice to Sand Point Housing youthCover of Compared to What? A publication of Solid Ground's Sand Point Young Artist Workshop

The youth who live at Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing campus do not see themselves as a continuation of their parents’ lives. “I get super annoyed when I am compared,” one girl says. “It’s just irritating because that is just saying that you don’t really know who I am if I am being compared.”

Thus the title COMPARED TO WHAT? was born for the zine that developed out of a writing and arts workshop series Solid Ground held last fall for the older teens living with their families at Sand Point, a neighborhood of 175 households at the old Naval Station of Puget Sound in Magnuson Park.

The workshops were based in the principle that everyone’s voice should be heard. Starting with writing sessions led by Seattle storyteller and educator Kathya Alexander, they continued with photography and design sessions led by Solid Ground staff. Through it all, young people found their voices. “Their growth was beautiful to see,” says Christina Shimizu, Annual Giving Officer at Solid Ground and one of the staff supporters of this youth-driven project.

Creative prompts helped unleash the power of the pen

Starting out with writing prompts and progressing to original poems helped the participants feel comfortable, not only with writing, but also with one another. Within this supportive group setting, the youth quickly gained confidence and began to share their personal experiences – an important outlet for previously homeless youth who have not had many opportunities to express themselves creatively.

One of the teens comments about the project, “This is the first time we are actually getting heard, with a different point of view. Our point of view. We think differently from the way adults think. We can also teach adults how we think, because our generation is so different than your guys’ generation. I feel like we know so much more.”

I am a rare solar eclipse
Gray and overlooked
A tough cactus
Midnight, calm and relaxing
I am needed like air
A glistening diamond
The illusion that the sky is blue”

Teen photographer After a few writing sessions, Sand Point Case Manager and experienced photographer, Bellen Drake, led a photography workshop focused on visual aspects of the storytelling process. She spent a day with the youth taking photos and teaching them to use their cameras to capture the essence of their experiences, which for most is shaped by poverty-induced instability. Although most of the poets moved into long-term housing years ago and no longer identify as being homeless, Bellen notes that “it was a valuable opportunity to reflect on a time that impacted them as children, and they have now grown out of. It was a time in their past; homelessness is not their current situation.”

There were multiple leaders within the group and it was an entirely collaborative effort to put the zine together and publish it in January. The poems and images bring to mind the vividness of young romance and deep angst, mixed with materialistic egos and happy innocence. The young artists reveal their dreams and aspirations of growing up, as well as their multidimensional approach to discovering the answers to “What is Justice?”

COMPARED TO WHAT? showcases this unique community and amplifies voices that too often go unheard.

Our published writers & artists are: Ayanle Abdikadir (Abdi), Mohamed Abdikadir, Nya Rambang, Marie, Sahvannah Glenn, Maar Rambang, Heaven, Ryahnna, Geo, Chris Gainey, Ben Dessalegne, Jen Matapula, Andrea R, Deiosha Sparks.

To get your copy of Compared to What? or learn more about how you can support the youth at Sand Point Housing, contact Christina Shimizu at christinas@solid-ground.org.

‘Locking young people up doesn’t work’

This opinion piece by James Williams was originally published as SUNDAY DISCOURSE: WHERE WE GO FROM HERE (3 BASIC TRUTHS). (Reposted with permission of the South Seattle Emerald.)

THERE IS A BETTER WAY.

AfAm male behind fenceLocking young people up doesn’t work. It doesn’t keep communities safe. In the 90s, incarceration rates skyrocketed nationwide but had no discernible effects as far as reducing crime rates. Locking young people up doesn’t set them up for success later in life or help them work through whatever problems they are dealing with. The skills it takes to survive and be respected behind bars are much different than the ones young people need to thrive on the outside.

In too many instances, by locking young people up we are preparing them for a life path of poverty and reoccurring incarceration.

When a person does come home and turn their life around, it is not the bars and bricks that had the positive impact on them. Usually it means they met someone in there who talked to them and helped them to understand life better. Or it means they used the time to sit down, sort their thoughts out, and make a plan.

We should find better ways to connect resources like positive mentors and life skills like meditation and conflict resolution to the youth who most need them.

Community led Prevention and Alternative to Detention programs do work. When we get it right, virtually all resources will be poured into Community led Prevention programs. Every child, like every person, has potential to do great good or great bad. When we get it right, resources will go to unlocking that great potential before serious mistakes are made.

Examples of community led prevention are the Africatown Center for Education & Innovation and First Place Scholars Charter School. Africatown offers a wide array of after-school and summer programing for youth in the Rainier Valley. History, culture, and self-pride are part of every curriculum. First Place welcomes students from some of the county’s most turbulent situations with an understanding that we all have the potential to be geniuses and a commitment to provide whatever wrap-around services, mentors, or family counseling are needed. These models are working to help our youth grow as part of a healthy and thriving community.

Models such as this need to be supported and scaled up while remaining under the leadership of communities most affected by problems they seek to solve.

In the present moment, Community led Alternative to Detention programs are essential. Models such as 4Culture and the 180 Program currently exist within the King County Juvenile Justice system. 4Culture is an art-based diversionary program which links young people with like-minded artists who mentor them and coach them over a four-month period. Diversion 180 is a program that allows juveniles with minor offenses to have charges dropped in exchange for attending a four-hour seminar on growing up and recovering from mistakes, facilitated by adults with similar backgrounds.

COUNTY IS BUILDING A BRIDGE TO NOWHERE.

In essence, on February 9th the Council communicated to the world, “Youth Jails today, Youth Jails tomorrow, and Youth Jails forever.” For more than one reason, this situation begs comparison with when George Wallace was Governor of Alabama and uttered the line, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  The vote was the realization of community liaison Claudia Balducci’s repeated promise that, “We are going to build the jail. No matter what people say and do, we are going to build the jail.”

It is widely recognized that the the war on drugs was lost. Locking ever-increasing numbers of people up did not reduce the availability of narcotics on the street. The country is turning a corner now, we are starting to move down another path. Now, marijuana has been legalized in several states. Organizations such as ACLU-WA are receiving $10 million grants to find ways of bringing down mass incarceration numbers. The total number of juveniles incarcerated in King County is around half of what it was 10 years ago.

Mass incarceration is a failed solution of the past, not the future. Public officials who support this project will be remembered by future generations as leaders who built a bridge to nowhere. Completing the proposed building is a favor to developers and prison building companies more than any effort to improve public safety or help families and young people.

THE FUTURE IS NOW.

In his 1964 speech titled “Message to the Grassroots,” Malcolm X talked about a change that was taking place in the mood of the black community. Some say the speech is about differences in leadership style. I say it is more of a speech about generations, inevitable change, and the baton of leadership.

Talking to the leaders of the 40s and 50s who felt change was being demanding in unreasonable chunks during the 1960s, Malcolm told them that the young people of that day were tired of going along to get along and demanded tangible change. He was proved right by increased levels of militancy and impossible-to-ignore demands for change that came from black leaders and community organizations in the late 60s and early 70s. We understand where Malcolm was coming from because we are in a similar situation today.

Speaking to ones who have carried the torch of leadership for Seattle’s most oppressed populations during recent decades, I want them to know the leaders of the 2020s and 2030s have awakened. These young leaders believe true justice and a better future is possible for all of us.

The next generation is not trading in the welfare of the community for awards or position. It is understood how the politics of respectability and going along to get along have not worked for most people. You are witnessing the awakening of tomorrow’s leaders and the coming of age for a new generation. There is no going back. Nothing will ever be the same.

THREE THINGS YOU CAN DO (to help Ending the Prison Industrial Complex):

  • Call ACLU-WA at 206.624.2184 and tell them 10% of their grant to fight Mass Incarceration from Floyd Jones should be used to fund community led-prevention & alternatives to detention models.

Celebrating Our Hearts at Concord International School

This post by Apple Corps team member Kelly Shilhanek originally appeared on Apple Corps: the Blog. Kelly is a Nutrition Educator with the Washington Service Corps at Concord International School.

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

Ms. Kelly & Ms. Pam give lap-markers to speedy 1st graders!

“We only get one heart!” Ms. Kristin McGee, Concord’s P.E. teacher, reminded students as we sat in a circle in the middle of the gym. “It’s not like you can go to the heart store and buy another one…” Giggles ensue, and students are wiggly and ready to run. “Does your heart stop beating when you go to sleep?” she asks. Most students shake their heads. “It slows down, but your heart never stops beating from the time you are born until the time you die.”

Every time I hear that statement, I’m sobered by the fact that my heart beats, beats and beats, and I never think twice about it. It is incredible to appreciate this powerful organ that keeps our bodies and brains alert and in motion every second of each day. I tell myself to make sure I take care of my heart, because I definitely don’t want to have to go to the heart store!

With heart health in mind, Apple Corps worked in tandem with Ms. McGee to promote a cardiovascular riff on the Valentine’s theme. Students are encouraged to have fun while building their cardiovascular endurance while walking, jogging and running around the gym to compete for individual and classroom prizes. Most students ran at least one mile during their P.E. class time, and a few future track stars logged two miles in 20 minutes! Cumulatively, the Concord student body ran 550 miles during the course of one week – approximately the distance between Seattle and Mt. Shasta in Northern California. This year, teachers also got the chance to participate in Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week through a staff-wide competition to see who could take the most steps using a pedometer over the course of the week.

Concord students had fun and worked hard. 3rd graders noticeably revved up when Macklemore played on the speakers, kindergartners zoomed around the gym without stopping to collect their lap-trackers, a 5th grade student encouraged her classmate to keep moving with the call “c’mon, girl power!” – and one 1st grade class impressed everyone by accumulating 35 miles in one P.E. period. I didn’t know first graders could run that far and so fast!

Encouraging healthy habits is easier when everyone is having fun, which is a core idea behind Healthy Heart Valentine’s Week. It’s a good reminder for me, too – eating healthy and working out should feel exciting and engaging, not like a chore. So here’s to healthy hearts, healthy habits, and gooooooo Concord!

Lessons from the cutting edge

Edna Sadberry, former program supervisor for Pathways and the MLK VISTA program.

Edna Sadberry, former Program Supervisor for the Pathway to Career Corps and MLK VISTA programs.

Over 40 years, Solid Ground and our forebear the Fremont Public Association have helped incubate many of our community’s most effective responses to poverty. These include the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), the Economic Opportunity Institute, Community Voice Mail (now called ConnectUp), FareStart, the Washington State Housing Trust Fund, and many others.

Unfortunately not every good idea is successful in the marketplace of nonprofit programming.

Sometimes a principal funder pulls out, such as when the federal Corporation for National & Community Service discontinued funding the Washington Reading Corps, which ended our demonstrated success at closing the achievement gap through literacy tutoring and support for elementary school students.

Other times, the business model does not pencil out, which is what happened with our Working Wheels program, an attempt to provide low-cost cars to people living on low-incomes who needed a reliable vehicle to get or maintain a job.

Sometimes the program design itself is not sustainable. A few years ago Solid Ground pioneered a new National Service model, Pathway to Career Corps (Pathways), designed to provide underserved young people from communities of color a training- and work-based model to prepare themselves for higher education or the workforce.

While designed by experienced, successful National Service Program Managers, Pathways proved unable to meet all of the challenges faced by its team in the first year, according to Program Supervisor Edna Sadberry. Looking at a large fundraising goal to support a second year, Solid Ground’s Board of Directors chose to close the program.

Sadberry went on to manage Solid Ground’s Martin Luther King VISTA program, a National Service-based program Solid Ground ran from the late 1980s until 2014, which was a groundbreaking effort to infuse anti-oppression analysis, training and action into the service model. Though the legacy of MLK VISTA’s work was incredibly powerful, this anti-oppression focus was ultimately not in alignment with state National Service leaders’ priorities, and the program was forced to shut its doors this past summer.

What lessons can we learn from these program closures, and how do we incorporate Solid Ground’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression principles in our anti-poverty work?

In this video, MLK VISTA and Pathways Program Supervisor Edna Sadberry shares some of her insights, learned on the cutting edge.

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