Special Edition
Student Success Project
funded by Justice Assistance Grant
Project Thrive is dedicated to reducing barriers for boys of color by improving and aligning the systems that provide services. We would like to highlight one example of our community leaders coming together to do their work differently to better meet the needs of youth in Santa Cruz County. We often say that youth are the future of our communities, and rightfully so; the way we support our youth and the values we instill will be reflected as they become adults. Sadly, not all youth have the same opportunities. Years of disinvestment in communities of color has resulted in inequities. Historically, Latinx and black youth have not been given the same opportunities as their wealthier and white counterparts. Graduation rates between youth of color and white youth were disproportionate and did not reflect the population percentages. The majority of youth on probation were from South County (primarily youth of color) compared to North County (primarily white youth). Amongst the youth on probation, the graduation rates of youth of color were significantly lower. 

In Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz County Probation (SCCP) took note of discrepancies. Rather than just accepting the numbers, they decided to look beyond their immediate work to understand what could be done differently to truly provide the support our youth need. SCCP moved towards identifying the root causes behind youth failing programming, by using tools such as the JAIS assessment, it was discovered that the majority of the youth needs were social and emotional related. Youth were falling through the cracks due to lack of meaningful engagement, support, and services that were beyond what probation could do on its own.

Due to the successful collaboration between Santa Cruz County Probation (SCCP) the County Office of Education (COE), and the Santa Cruz Cruz County Sheriff's Department, they were able to apply for the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). Thus the Student Success Project was born and was possible to expand into three additional PVUSD sites,  where they provided intervention and prevention strategies, such as connecting youth to therapists and employment support, to increase student success regarding attendance, credit accrual, and behavior.
Culturally Responsive Shift: 
SCCP and the COE understood the importance to shift towards culturally responsive programming. Through funding provided by JAG the COE hired two project specialists to support and serve more youth and families through the SSP.
Project Specialists:
Ben Alamillo & Daniel Alanis

They grew up in the community and experienced life as young adults in the same neighborhoods as the youth they work with. 

Speaking Spanish allows them to communicate with the families of the youth. However speaking the language of those being served, goes beyond simply speaking Spanish, but includes that commonality which breaks down barriers and creates a special bond.

It is the ability of Ben and Daniel to switch from casual conversation with youth and families to professional jargon when advocating and reporting to community partners that allows them to be effective and meaningfully connected to those they are serving.
(Pictured Above: top left Ben Alamillo, top right Rafael Ramirez Principal from New School, below Daniel Alanis)
Trauma-Informed Practices: 
SCCP and the COE moved towards Trauma-Informed practices. Practices that recognize and address the trauma some of our young people have experienced. When serving youth it is vital to grasp the full picture of their experiences, each youth has specific needs unique to their situation.

SSP thus partnered with other Community Organizations to ensure each youth receives appropriate services. The addition of services allows SSP to meet youth needs beyond discipline and address the root cause of issues. 
Partners such as Community Action Board, are able to provide employment support through their Alcance program as well as housing and legal support when needed, or Children’s Behavioral Health; that aids in providing counseling for youth.

Ben and Daniel always meet the youth where they are and embrace them for who they are. They allow the youth to decide for themselves what is best to do, but more importantly, they are genuine and transparent with the youth regarding what it is they are, and are not capable of doing for the youth. The youth are resilient given the opportunity and tools to succeed, and it is this opening to success that many youth in these situations are not able to reach.

Community Collaboration
By focusing on the youth strengths and needs SSP has been able to increase the number of youth graduating and completing the programming successfully. It has however been a community effort coming together to find alignment and collaborating to begin reducing barriers.

Partnering with schools:  to create restorative justice practices within those schools, such as restorative circles being implemented when youth are in conflict with one another, allowing youth to find better conflict resolution practices while ensuring youth are not punished for situations that could be resolved in a constructive manner.

Parent Engagement - this was a core focus of the pilot and entailed intentional contact and engagement of parents/caregivers as a 1st point of contact when a concern arises. The team ensured there was actual communication and an request to meet/partner with schools and identify solutions as well as supports for the family.
Community-based Organizations : such as Encompass, Second Food Harvest, Community Action Board, and Youth Now, allow for wrap-around services that ensure the varied needs of a young person are met.
Youth Experience During COVID-19
The dedication to remain nimble in responding to youth needs has been most apparent in our current situation with COVID-19 and sheltering in place. Within weeks, services had to entirely shift to online platforms to address the shelter in place ordinances.

SCCP with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided laptops for students on probation to remain connected and staff were provided with necessary materials to adjust. The shelter in place restrictions due to COVID-19 became grounds for innovative thinking and opened the doors to changes in practices. Partners embraced online work from remote material distribution to hosting group based awareness sessions, modifications that they believe will continue to aid the work well after schools return to a more conventional format.

While it may be a difficult time to do the work it proved that the meaningful connections made through SSP and the genuine effort of staff continue to drive the work.

“All of the staff associated with the three sub-programs have had to “reimagine” how the work can be done to support those who can benefit from the efforts that were in place prior to the SIP (Shelter In Place) orders.” - Joshua Pastor (Santa Cruz County Sheriff Departmental Administrative Analyst)

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of youth and families

Is a student from Sequoia Middle School, has mentioned she is really appreciative of Ben and Daniel being able to check-in with her during the pandemic and has begun to share about her life and upbringing, allowing herself to be vulnerable. Her mother has been supportive of Shakira receiving positive mentorship and support from Ben and Daniel, motivating her to stay on track with her academics and, most importantly, maintaining her mental health.
Ramirez* Family: 

Are great example of how the family as a whole has benefitted with our engagement. Attempting to reach the brother and sister within the family Ben and Daniel accidentally contacted their father first. Hearing the work that the mentors do, he was justly impressed and requested information for community resources. The father of the Ramirez family ultimately received some coaching himself on how to connect via online platforms and access virtual resources. It is the flexibility of Ben and Daniel, their relations to those they serve and the community effort through different organizations that allows the success of SSP.

Is was very proactive in his connection with the Project Specialists even though he was initially not entirely comfortable with online platforms and showing his face on screen. Slowly he came around, through conversations with Ben and Daniel, and eventually was reconnected with his schools, and his Alcance case manager for employment services to begin applying at various work locations. Ben and Daniel have been meeting with him and school teachers and even meditating online. It has taken the team collaborating with Alcance and his teachers to encourage Juan to finish strong in his last semester of school. 
Looking Forward
Moving towards more equitable and meaningful systems of service is no easy feat, but the achievements of SSP show that success is possible and necessary if we want to ensure our young people thrive.

The leadership of these organizations has to be on board to change the way their work is done and the correct staff have to be hired in order to connect and understand the community. As with SSP, it has taken a collaboration of community organizations and county departments to reach its current point. Project Thrive of Santa Cruz sees the work of the Student Success Project funded by the Justice Assistance Grant as a model of what can be done when the right thought leaders and organizations come together for the well being of our youth and our communities.
Project Thrive  continues its efforts to address inequities within Santa Cruz County when addressing young people of color who have experienced violence and ensuring that services available take into account the many underlying factors that can’t always be seen. Youth continue to be the future of our communities but we must not forget that they are blossoms of current conditions.

YVPN Coordinator
Amanda Gamban

Project Thrive Coordinator
Ruben Garcia Jr

4450 Capitola Rd, Ste 106
Capitola, CA 95010

PHONE | [831.479.5466]
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