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New Mexico ISS Convening Remarks

Resource type: Speech

Jackie Williams Kaye |

Remarks of Jackie Williams Kaye, Strategic Learning & Evaluation Executive, The Atlantic Philanthropies, at the New Mexico Convening of Integrated Services in Schools (ISS). 

I am very happy to be here on behalf of Atlantic together with my colleagues Mini, Nicole and Alice. Alice Duff will become your new best friend as she takes the lead for our team on this initiative. Thank you for including us. We are joined by Geri Summerville and the team from Public/Private Ventures who provide such important support for the sites implementing the integrated services model. And, from the beginning Naomi Post has been steadfast and true – a valuable resource and support who brought that critical combination of great thinking and a sense of humor.

The number of people in this room is striking in itself but even more so is the talent and experience represented. Involved in this effort are a rich array of local providers (University of New Mexico, National Indian Youth Leadership Project, the Court Youth Center, YMCA, Community Action Agency of NM, Partners for Success), and national partners like Citizen Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Foundations, Inc and FRAC. We appreciate so much the dedication of the many local providers who have come together, sometimes working with our national partners, to provide quality after school services, health and behavioral health services, advocacy and family supports.

The next few days promise to be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the initiative, to learn new skills and to network with others who are working so hard to make this a successful endeavor. No one fully appreciates what goes into organizing an event like this one unless they have actually done it. The staff at the New Mexico Community Foundation- and in particular Renee and Nora- have made the rest of us think it is much easier than it actually is. We appreciate their ability to manage logistics, answer the same question multiple times, create a stimulating and engaging program, make sure we are in surroundings conducive to a relaxed but productive gathering – and to do all of this with a calm and never wavering positive attitude.

There is just one person who would be even more thrilled than I am to be standing here looking out at all of you who are engaged in this remarkable effort. My colleague Debra Delgado is the reason we are all here tonight. She led Atlantic’s development of the integrated services in schools initiative, and her effort and commitment grounds everything going forward. She died earlier this week after an illness that took her energy but never touched her warmth, humor, caring and all the other qualities that made her a terrific person and a truly wonderful and effective advocate for disadvantaged children. We will miss her.

Debra’s role also underlines the critical importance of good leadership. There is extraordinary talent and leadership in New Mexico with truly dedicated public servants. I will have more to say about this later but will note now that the state leadership- the Governor, the Lt Governor and the state secretaries- was a key influence as Atlantic decided that New Mexico offered an excellent investment opportunity.

But, for this to be a success, we needed to have confidence in a local organisation to coordinate and lead. We found that organisation in the New Mexico Community Foundation. Perhaps you have noticed that this is an ambitious project involving many, many relationships and partnerships. It is being implemented in diverse settings that have common goals but unique contexts. Throughout the development and early implementation, Bob, Renee and the New Mexico Community Foundation team have been, quite simply, excellent. Their thinking and effort have been consistently high quality. We are indeed very confident in their leadership.

Three distinct school districts and five very different schools , while each unique, share a common factor- progressive and talented leaders, from district superintendents on down to principals and vice principals. We know that we have placed demands beyond their regular responsibilities, but they have accepted the additional work and effort because of their commitment to the students they serve.

The heart and soul of this initiative is found, of course, in 5 school buildings. These schools are filled with creative and smart students who have huge potential. Despite this, I’ve always been somewhat astonished that people could care so much about children who are not their own. Visiting the schools here put me in a good mood and gave me a great sense of optimism. The teachers, staff and students are so impressive and these schools are led by five exceptional individuals: Yolanda Batrez, Kara Bobroff, Ed Briggs, Dr. David Garcia and Connie Hansen. Rather than search for words that will inadequately express the level of their effort, always focused on the best interest of their students and on providing a high quality educational experience, I’d like them to stand and I ask you to join me in applauding them.

I am pretty engaged in advocating for causes I care about. I send emails to policymakers. I tend to start those emails by saying “As a social scientist, a public health professional and a mom…” I think of those as my three core perspectives. I want to take a few minutes this evening to talk about the integrated services in schools initiative from each.

As a social scientist, I believe that disadvantaged children deserve our best science; we have done them a disservice by not always using data to inform decisions. They deserve evidence based approaches and well evaluated programs. They deserve to have us document and learn from our experiences. They deserve continuous improvement based on what we’ve learned.

And as a social scientist I know that a holistic approach to working with students – an approach that considers the whole child – is more promising than an approach that targets one need while ignoring others that can be equally important.

As a public health professional, I know that we should be thinking about education and health together. Here is something I read recently in a health journal:

“If medical researchers were to discover an elixir that could reduce the burden of illness, decrease risky health behavior and shrink disparities in health, we would celebrate such a remarkable discovery. Robust …evidence suggests that education is such an elixir…Good education predicts good health and disparities in health and educational achievement are closely linked.”

I wanted to highlight this because when we talk about health and education, we often focus on the influence of health on educational progress. Children need to be physically and mentally healthy, and in school, to learn. But it works both ways – educational strategies and activities influence health. We know, for example, that service learning can lead to positive health outcomes. The health centers and the educational programming in these schools each contribute to both educational and health outcomes.

This initiative did not invent the idea of offering more than academic education through our schools, but we have struggled to do it well. I want to read something from a 2003 journal article:

“The demands on schools to implement effective educational approaches that promote academic success enhance health and prevent problem behaviors has grown. Unfortunately, many child advocates and researchers, despite their good intentions, have proposed fragmented initiatives to address problems without an adequate understanding of the mission, priorities and culture of schools. Schools have been inundated with well intentioned prevention and promotion programs that address such diverse issues as HIV/AIDS, alcohol, careers, character, civics, conflict resolution, delinquency, dropout, family life, health, morals, multiculturalism, pregnancy, service learning, truancy and violence.

For a number of reasons these uncoordinated efforts often are disruptive…They are typically introduced as a series of short-term, fragmented initiatives. Such programs and the needs they address are not sufficiently linked to the central mission of the school. … and are unlikely to be sustained.”

The integrated services in schools initiative recognizes that just offering services and programs in a school building is not the solution. I know not everyone likes the word integration but I think everyone would agree with the core concepts reflected in its definition – “organized or structured so that units function cooperatively and in a coordinated way so as to provide a harmonious , interrelated whole”

Now, as a mom – when my son was in 9th grade, his younger sister – she was in 7th grade – came to me and said “Mom, about Josh and Dad – neither of them have sufficient independent living skills”. Her Dad is not relevant for tonight’s conversation so I will just note that she was always a very insightful child. But I too had some concerns about my 9th grader during that critical transition year. Things have worked out OK but I am fully aware of what it takes.

When Sarrah tore her ACL playing soccer and needed knee surgery, we had health insurance that allowed us to make the best decisions about her care without worrying about the financial consequences for our family.

The access my kid had, all kids should have.

Josh believes the best role models he ever had were his basketball and baseball coaches. And when I knew that my kids needed good information and guidance about reproductive health but wasn’t sure I was the one they would or should talk to, I wasn’t worried. I knew the health educators at school were a well trained and accessible resource.

The supports my kids had, all kids should have.

Beginning in 6th grade, Sarrah played the trumpet in the school’s brass choir. In addition to the music itself – in a time when arts and music are sacrificed within restricted school budgets – the experience was so valuable because the group included 6th-12th graders. The interaction with older students no doubt helped her transition from middle to high school.

The opportunities my kids had, all kids should have.

Not just my kids. All kids.

That’s what you are doing in these five schools- keeping kids engaged in learning and healthy, with the same opportunities and preparation for adulthood as their more advantaged peers.

It is not easy. It will never become easy. It means making the effort and sticking with the kids day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

As a social scientist, a public health professional and a mom, I am very confident that we know what to do to make a difference.

As a representative of The Atlantic Philanthropies, I am so very confident that the people sitting in this room have the will to make it happen.

Thank you.