By John Shields, PhD, MSW | May 11, 2015
Senior Research Associate, ETR
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about my professional partnerships lately. Over the past 14 years, ETR has provided me with opportunities to partner with many community-based organizations and institutions. Now, I can’t honestly say they’ve all been easy. “Stuff” happens. But I can say each one has given me a chance to create fascinating relationships and do meaningful work that has a genuine impact.
I know we all say this, but I’ve really felt this lately—working with community partners is a privilege and an honor.
Take the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Here is a group of education professionals willing to completely overhaul their approach to preventing sexual and gender-based harassment. It takes courage, humility and resolve to take a hard look at existing procedures and be willing to change the system to make it stronger and better.
They’ve embraced these steps, and it’s allowing them to respond more quickly and effectively when harassment occurs.
I’ve worked with many people in this District, from teachers and campus security officers to administrators at the highest level of District leadership. I’ve been wonderfully impressed by the uniformity and intensity of everyone’s resolve to improve their culture and practices. You can learn more about their efforts on their Office of Educational Equity website.
I was co-facilitating a training a few weeks back, presenting a ton of information to WCCUSD principals about Title IX (ensuring gender equity in education) and California’s AB1266 (mandating protections for all students regardless of gender identity and expression). We were discussing their mandates around the protection of the rights of transgender students.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget an exchange between two principals. The first asked, “So what do I do if one day a student comes into school with a male gender identity, and the next day comes in with a female gender identity?”
The other patiently raised her hand and said, “You just say hello and get about the business of education.” A truly inspirational statement—elegant in its simplicity and very powerful.
Or take the San Francisco Unified School District. There, a dedicated group of partners is working hard to continuously sustain and expand the District’s network of school-based health education and services for all of the District’s 56,000 students. Check out their programs here.
I’ve worked with their senior health administrators as long as I’ve been with ETR, and I’m humbled by their passion for their work. Their ability to keep at it day after day amazes me.
We live in a time where there’s so much pressure on principals and teachers to improve academic test scores that health education can feel like it has been put on the back burner. But my partners at SFUSD have sustained the District’s focus on health education and kept plenty of emphasis on critical physical and mental health issues their students face. They are making good health as important in their District as academic performance.
One of their most inspiring programs is the San Francisco Wellness Initiative—a network of school-based wellness centers in 19 public high schools. We hear all the time from students, parents and teachers about how vital the Wellness Center services are for students.
Like the teacher who said:
All the students I teach know that if they need support emotionally or physically, the Wellness Center and its staff are willing to help them without judgment or prejudice. In the past year, I've had concerns about various students. Each time I've reached out to Wellness they've given me a better understanding about what was happening in that student’s life and the possible effects in my classroom. It gave me a better idea about how to structure my lessons and interactions with those students. It's just good to know that there are services at the school that are accessible to everyone—students and staff!
Or take the Oakland Unified School District, where a very small team of people is having a very big impact on HIV/AIDS prevention education and services. Check out their efforts here. It’s been incredible to witness the amount of change a small group of committed professionals can make.
At the end of a week-long series of all-day trainings, I commented to one of the facilitators that she looked a wee bit tired. I asked if she was OK. She said, “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s been a long hard week. But it’s so worth it to get these lessons into classrooms all across the District.”
I could go on all day, but I think you get the picture. As program evaluators, our ETR group never wants to lose sight of the daily trials, tribulations, incremental successes and big victories of our community partners. They are the ones toiling day in and day out to support the health and well-being of young people. They deserve our best scientific efforts to demonstrate to their communities, funders, legislators, policy makers—basically, anyone who’s not working right in the heart of these Districts—that their work is making a positive difference. We must be as passionate and bold in our work as they are every day in their schools.
John Shields, PhD, MSW, is a Senior Research Associate at ETR. He has led the implementation of many evaluation and research projects in partnership with local, state and federal organizations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.