Currently browsing

Why This Work is So Important

TABLE ROCK ELEMENTARY PRINCIPAL TURNS TRAUMA AND STRIFE INTO RESILIENCY AND HOPE

As a dedicated educator, Table Rock Elementary Principal Jose deJesus Melendez always understood that trauma, toxic stress, or, as we now call it, adverse childhood experiences could disrupt a child’s development and ability to learn. What he didn’t realize was how deep and wide the research on this subject was or what a tremendous effort was being made by the Southern Oregon Regional Success Initiative to share this knowledge with so many community partners.  “This is exactly the work we need to do here!”

When asked if he considers himself a trauma survivor, Principal Melendez agrees that he is.  Having been born and raised in a very rural part of Mexico, Melendez endured an extreme form of generational poverty. He had little access to education and completely dropped out of any schooling by the 4th grade. His family and his extended family members were all subsistence farmers, many struggled with alcoholism and the related hurt and chaos it so often creates in the lives of families.

At age 17 Melendez migrated to the U.S. to find work and support the family finances.  It is then he says he experienced trauma in another, even more painful way.  “I felt so unwelcomed, the hits to my soul, my self-esteem, made me feel like an unwanted but necessary inconvenience to capitalism.”  The inhumane conditions under which he and his fellow migrant workers labored added to the toxic stress of unrelenting prejudice.  He saw many friends and fellow workers succumb to alcohol related death or wither away from drug abuse as they sought to cope.

A special program at the University of Oregon offering a General Education Diploma (GED) to migrant workers in the region, and a compassionate but firm woman named Donna Wong changed Melendez’s life trajectory.  He was now headed away from a life weighted down by trauma towards a life grounded in resiliency and hope.  He enrolled in the program at age 27 and Wong instantly took a liking to him.  She believed in him.  With her constant encouragement, his hard work, and even more encouragement from Wong, he earned a GED.  She stretched his imagination and together they co-created a plan for college. Wong insisted Melendez write about his life story.  In the process, he found his voice and an audience in the college recruiters.  Soon he had scholarships in his pocket and a college degree on the way.

The journey wasn’t easy. Melendez was only one of two Latinos at his University where there was little concern for a concept like inclusivity. More than once Melendez had his bags packed, ready to drop out of college.  Again, the passion and belief of two inspiring individuals kept him going.  “I still remember her name, Mindy Morrison.  She wouldn’t let me leave.”  The other inspiration came from a chance encounter with the iconic Ceasar Chavez.  Melendez fell spellbound hearing the former migrant worker turned activist speak at a rally in 1991.  “I realized in that moment I had champions to speak for me; people using their gifts and their energy on my behalf.”  Melendez pressed forward.

“This is what teachers do” says Melendez of his work as an educator and now principal of Table Rock Elementary School where he’s charged with leading other educators.  “Resiliency comes with the aid, the help, the inspiration from others.”

When asked “if you could hang a motto or saying in the home of every person, what would it be?” Melendez became passionate.  “I’m so frustrated when people say they can’t touch lives, or help someone else; people who, instead, blame and shame.  I tell my teachers you DO have the power to create bright futures for our children. . . or to insure they don’t have one at all.”

But if he had to choose one saying to hang in every home, it would have to be a variation of the one that hangs both in English and in Spanish on the walls of his school office: “Every Child Matters” or “Cada Nino es un Tesoro.” Melendez really likes the Spanish word “Tesoro” because it means treasure.  To him, all children are beautiful works of art, precious treasures.

After spending time with Principal Melendez, it’s easy to see he is also a priceless jewel in the crown of southern Oregon!

SOU INTRODUCES TUITION WAIVERS FOR DUAL CREDIT

While free or discounted early college credit makes college more affordable, some students in college-level (dual credit) classes never register for the college credit. Why are they missing this opportunity? For low-income students, the belief that college is outside of the realm of affordability can lead to dismissing college as an option without ever looking at actual costs; they assume there is no point in bothering when attending college seems impossible.

Recently, SOU Pre-College staff have broken down this assumption of unaffordability to create a sense that post-secondary achievement is indeed possible for low-income students.  They’ve accomplished this by offering tuition waivers.

Some staff were tentative at first: would offering tuition waivers mean lost income from students who could afford to pay? They knew their challenge was to increase access without driving down income from dual credit programs, as that income pays for the staff and faculty needed to administer these programs and provides funding for classroom materials in dual credit classes. Staff took a deep breath, and jumped in.

Use of tuition waivers started slowly, with only 44 waivers redeemed in 2015-16. The waivers, for students identified as low-income at their schools, reduce tuition to only $5/credit – keeping some “skin in the game” for students and their families. As word spread, confidence in the option grew. This year, more than 200 waivers have been redeemed. Best of all, flat dual credit income levels indicate these are new students – those who otherwise would not have registered for credit. Families who could afford to pay for college credit have continued to do so, while students who formerly assumed college was out of their reach are now electing to get a start on college credit.

This June, 572 high school students all across Southern Oregon will graduate with a total of 8,997 SOU credits already on their college transcripts. Of these seniors, 37 have completed a full year of college (45 credits); 108 have completed 32 or more credits. These students have a head start on college; early college credit correlates with greater persistence and completion of post-secondary credentials. By helping more students to realize that college is possible for them, SOU is helping move the needle on post-secondary attainment. And families are saving money: total value of tuition dollars saved, for these seniors alone, exceeds $1,000,000. With credits in hand, and money in the bank, Southern Oregon’s students are better prepared to succeed in college.

Education is an important social determinant to good health.  SORS is proud of the work being done by our partners at SOU “to promote the health, academic, and life success of our children, youth and families across the region”!

CREATING SAFE SPACES AND HEALING HARM WITH RESTORATIVE PRACTICES IN ROGUE VALLEY SCHOOLS

Most simply put, restorative justice in schools is about building and repairing relationships. The practice of proactively convening community building circles gives students a voice in their classroom and school community.  Caring and competent teachers, other adults or staff from Resolve (Center for Dispute Resolution and Restorative Justice) facilitate dialogue using prompts and in ways that support the development of secure and respectful relationships while enhancing the sense of community.

In the event of person to person conflict or harm, hurtful classroom disruptions, or broken promises or behavior agreements, responsive circles are convened to make things right, process grief, or de-brief a violent, harmful or other hurtful circumstance.  Whatever the case may be, circles are an important process as they communicate some of the essential values and principles of restorative justice: giving people a voice, equality, respect, relationship, collaboration in problem solving.

According to Raphi Kunkle, Director of Education at Resolve, “Implementing proactive community building circles are the first place to start for schools interested in high impact restorative justice practices for a couple of reasons: 1) You can’t ‘restore’ relationships and community if they never existed in the first place, and 2) Many of the restorative processes used to create meaningful accountability for situations in which there has been significant harm utilize a circle process, so it is helpful if students are already familiar and comfortable with the concept .”

Some of the area schools currently implementing community and restorative circles either as a stand-alone practice or as integrated into advisory programs are:

Phoenix High School
Talent Middle School
Rogue River
Ruch
Roosevelt Elementary
Jefferson Elementary

To learn more about restorative justice practices as a way to be “trauma-wise” and “trauma-informed” at your school, please contact Raphi Kunkel at raphaelle@resolvecenter.org or call Resolve at 541-770-2468.