School district, Journeymen receive Best Starts for Kids grants

Two island organizations have been awarded a total of $30,000 from King County’s Best Starts for Kids initiative to go toward support programs for those dealing with childhood trauma.

The Vashon Island School District received $20,000 — $10,000 for district-wide restorative justice and adverse childhood experience programming and $10,000 for a current county-funded program at McMurray. The newly formed island organization Journeymen, received $10,000 for its in-school programs that mentor and support boys.

At the school district, Yvonne Monique Aviva, the director of an ongoing initiative to improve social-emotional learning in Vashon public schools, applied for both of the grants. The first, which focuses on district-wide efforts, will train staff on restorative justice — a model of discipline practices that encourages conversations and the rebuilding of relationships instead of suspensions or expulsions — and support programs for children impacted by ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). She said the grants are all about “helping to create an environment for kids impacted by trauma so they feel safe and can thrive.”

“It’s about looking at our understanding of trauma, the unique needs kids have when impacted by trauma and what a trauma-informed classroom is,” she said. “Everyone needs to have the same lenses of understanding and ask, ‘How do we respond to them (the children suffering from trauma) because they have unique needs?’”

A King County Health Profile published in 2014 indicated one-third of all parents on Vashon experienced three or more ACEs, the fourth highest score in King County.

“Divorce is an ACE; one or both parents who were addicts, that’s an ACE,” Aviva said. “The more ACEs you have, the more impacted you are by them.”

The second grant focuses on a preventative, county-funded program — Screening Brief Intervention and Referral To (SBIRT) — at McMurray Middle School that has been in place since last spring and centers around early intervention.

SBIRT utilizes a therapist to which students can be referred by anyone. The therapist, Brandy Kmetz, can then offer not only mental health support, but connect youth to volunteer, interest groups, tutoring, mentoring and career planning options.

“We’re building capacity within our middle school to look at a cohort of kids and ask, ‘How are they doing and how we can help students and families in brief interventions to make it through challenges that show up?’” Aviva said.

At Journeymen, founders and Vashon High School alumni Alex Craighead and Nicky Wilks are implementing what they call circles (compassion, integrity, resiliency, community, leadership, equity and service) at all three VISD schools. The group mentorship program for boys aims to be an extra support to the schools’ current socio-emotional curriculum. The circles can accommodate up to 15 boys each and will be facilitated once a week at each school by Wilkes, Craighead and VISD staff during school hours (around lunch at the elementary and middle schools, and SMART period at the high school).

“It’s about tapping into the heart space and identifying emotions and how to express themselves correctly,” Craighead explained.

Circles are expected to begin at schools later this month.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the grants last week as part of two new Best Starts for Kids initiatives that aim to create what are referred to as trauma-informed schools, where the faculty, staff, and students have the skills and tools needed to create environments where children facing unpredictable, ongoing stress or trauma in their lives feel safe.

Voters approved the Best Starts for Kids legislation in 2015. It will provide up to $400 million in the next six years for youth and family programs county-wide.

Parents or others interested in learning about Journeymen’s circles can attend a community circle from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27. See closer to the time of the event for location.

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