Student Counseling Sparks Renewed Hope

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Manny* came into Juvenile Hall with a history of depression. He was falling behind in school and was socially isolated. He was also withdrawn from his family in his home life, which included his mother, two younger siblings, and his physically and emotionally abusive stepfather.

After building trust with his Acknowledge Alliance therapist, Manny opened up and shared that he lost his birth father as a young child. He spent time reminiscing about the “good old days” and mourned the loss of his father who was “everything” to him. His therapist also provided him a safe space to express his complicated feelings toward his mother. He loved her but he felt conflicted because she didn't protect him from his stepfather. 

Through the therapeutic process, Manny worked on exploring his need to be seen and valued in his family. He started to realize how his behaviors, such as skipping school, were contributing to his troubles with his mother. His therapist devoted time to listen and learn about his interests, such as animal conservation, hiking, local reptiles and amphibians, and climate change. Having these interests heard and validated was quite powerful and motivating for Manny. With genuine support, his therapist helped him identify and utilize his strengths of resilience, intelligence, compassion and kindness.    

When Manny left Juvenile Hall, he felt more confident and hopeful about the future. He was empowered to talk to his mother about his need to be an important and valued member of the family. He planned to spend meaningful time with her and his siblings, now that his stepfather was no longer living with them. He was highly motivated to attend school regularly and graduate from high school. He was excited to explore and participate in his extra-curricular interests so that he could get a job to protect animals.

Having a caring and trusted adult who listened, supported, and believed in him inspired him to heal his relationships, set goals, and reach his full potential. Our Collaborative Counseling Program helps youth like Manny experience renewed hope and a glimpse of a bright future with new possibilities.

*Student's name has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Supporting and Strengthening School Leadership

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“What’s something that you’re pleased with about the leadership at your school?” Jean Hamilton, Acknowledge Alliance Resilience Consultant, asks each principal this question when they meet for their monthly Principal Resilience Group.

Students need great teachers, and teachers need great leaders. Acknowledge Alliance facilitates a Principal Resilience Group to provide school leaders with the support and resilience they need through small group conversations. We offer a safe place for principals to build meaningful relationships with each other, feel listened to, learn effective strategies for dealing with stress, share strategies for better communication with colleagues, and break down some of the isolation of being a principal.

Principals are often the first one to arrive at school each day and the last ones to leave. No two days are ever the same and each day brings new challenges. They are responsible for every student, teacher, staff member, and program in their building. They work to fulfill the needs of both the district and the teachers and staff on campus, serving as the liaison between the school board and the school community. They focus on improving teacher quality and raising student achievement. They encourage parental involvement and address family concerns as well. On top of managing many relationships and completing daily administrative tasks, they also have to be available for every unforeseen crisis and every celebration. This pressure-filled job, while highly rewarding, can also be extremely demanding and isolating.

Those who have participated in our Principal Resilience Group have found it to be very beneficial. On our most recent survey, principals rated the statement “Overall this group was very useful to me” using a 5-point Likert scale that ranged from “not at all true” to “very much true.” The average score was 4.4 out of 5. These positive findings were echoed when they were asked whether the group met their needs. The answer was overwhelmingly “yes,” with everyone feeling that the group provided them a safe, supportive place.


Principals were grateful for the opportunity to discuss challenges, process emotions, and learn strategies with those in a similar position:

“The group provided an invaluable opportunity for me to share with my peers about the challenges we face as school leaders. I found the sessions to be very helpful as I was able to gain new perspectives, engage in meaningful conversation and, most importantly, feel valued and heard.”

“The group has met my need to collaborate with colleagues to solve larger problems. It has also built a community in which we can empathize with the struggles of our colleagues and offer support.”


This school year is off to a fantastic start! Our Principal Resilience Group is scheduled to meet soon and due to the demand from more schools, we hope to launch a second group this fall. We believe that our school leaders will continue to maximize their impact in effective and transformative ways.

Jean Hamilton shares, “My hope is that principals could really see how valuable they are. I encourage them to reflect on all of the positive things they have brought to their school communities, to see the incredible changes they have been able to facilitate, and to feel good about themselves in their role as principal.”


With the support of Acknowledge Alliance, principals are remembering to look for the positives, draw on their strengths, and build their own resilience to support the resilience of everyone in the school community.

Forget-Me-Not Event Inspires Hope, Kindness and Inspiration

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During Mental Health Awareness Month and Teacher Appreciation Week, we were honored to present our educator and youth awards on May 9 at our annual Forget-Me-Not event.

We are still moved by the heartwarming stories, acts of kindness, and compassion that made the event so meaningful. We are in awe of our strength as a community, and are grateful for the incredible amount of support we received.

Thank you to everyone who helped make Forget-Me-Not 2019 extraordinary! We'd like to especially thank Wells Fargo and Hood & Strong for sponsoring our event.

Forget-Me-Not Honorees

Our honorees were awarded for their exemplary work in our school communities. Hear from them below.

Principal Leadership Award
Columbia Middle School's Administration Team:
Mary Beth Allmann, Principal
Esteban Ybarra, Assistant Principal
Daniel Aguilar Poo, Assistant Principal


This stellar team was recognized for their commitment to social emotional well-being for staff and students. 95% of their students at Columbia Middle School reported that they had caring adults on campus!


Educator Award
Stephanie Keith, 6th Grade Teacher, Selby Lane School

Stephanie was honored for being a champion of social emotional learning in the classroom. Her thoughtful and creative approaches inspire her students to practice mindfulness and develop a growth mindset.


Outstanding Role Model Award
12th Grade Student, Carlmont High School

This student was acknowledged for her resilience and growth amidst tremendous adversity. She will be graduating this June and plans to attend college. She also hopes to work with at-risk populations in the future to give back and help change the lives of youth.

We are respectfully honoring the student's request to keep her name confidential and share her written speech in lieu of a video.


Forget-Me-Not Event Photos

We invite you to view our event photo album. Huge thank you to ilyanne Photographic Art for donating their services and capturing the essence of Forget-Me-Not.

Connections Between Achievement, Neuroscience, and Stress

From left to right: Carrie Du Bois, Dr. Ryan Matlow, Dr. Jacquelyn Ollison, Sarah Kremer, Jeneé Littrell

From left to right: Carrie Du Bois, Dr. Ryan Matlow, Dr. Jacquelyn Ollison, Sarah Kremer, Jeneé Littrell

On May 20, Acknowledge Alliance co-hosted the Sixth Annual Education Conference: Connections Between Achievement, Neuroscience, and Stress.

Stress and trauma levels are rising in schools for students, families, and staff due to a changing society, increased academic expectations, family/friend issues, and normal child development. Schools are seeing an increased need for a variety of services for everyone to support learning in existing environments. 

Keynote speakers, Dr. Ryan Matlow and Dr. Jacquelyn Ollison, discussed the impact trauma and stress have on students and educators alike. Dr. Ryan Matlow addressed the neurobiological and developmental impact that stress and trauma have, and how to foster resilience and growth for individuals and systems. Dr. Jacquelyn Ollison explored ways in which we can support educators, and improve teacher retention by addressing teachers' compassion fatigue.

The conference received positive feedback from our attendees:

“Thank you for sharing such valuable information, validation, and inspiration!” 
–Educator

“Thank you for explaining the concept and offering suggestions for our area.” 
–District Staff

“All information was very relevant and helpful for figuring out next steps in our Redwood City School District.”
–Educator, Curriculum Coach

“Enjoyed hearing all the pieces from neuroscience and stressors then bringing it together in actual on-the-ground programs.”
–School Board Member

“Great information presented throughout the event. Totally worth the time and worth of further reflection and implementation.”
–County Staff

Thank you to our partners and event sponsors — San Mateo County School Boards Association, San Mateo County Office of Education, Sequoia Healthcare District — for organizing a powerful day of learning.

Announcing our New Executive Director

Dear Acknowledge Alliance Community,

The Board of Directors of Acknowledge Alliance is pleased to announce the appointment of Sharon Navarro as the organization’s new Executive Director, effective March 1st 2019. Since 2016, Sharon has served as Director of Development for our agency.

The Agency’s current Executive Director, Susan Williams-Clark, is stepping down after almost 7 years in the role and returning to her hometown of Boulder Colorado. We are forever grateful to Susan for her deep contributions to Acknowledge Alliance, and for the many strong and vital connections she has built to further the agency’s mission.

Sharon brings to Acknowledge Alliance a unique background combining more than 15 years of management experience in the nonprofit and private sectors and over a decade in philanthropy. She has a stellar track record as a strategic thinker, team builder and innovative leader in highly challenging situations. Most importantly, Sharon has demonstrated her passion and commitment to Acknowledge Alliance as our Director of Development over the past two years that is essential to our future success.

Acknowledge Alliance, now in its 25th year, is a leader in providing a continuum of services that support lifelong resilience, social-emotional wellness and academic success for administrators, educators and students at K-12 schools. We are committed to strengthening the caring capacity of the adults who influence the lives of children and youth. As the agency’s new Executive Director, Sharon’s focus will be to expand the agency’s transformational impact by continuing to engage a broader swath of the education community.

Sharon’s first day as Acknowledge Alliance Executive Director is March 1st. The Board felt that some overlap with Susan prior to her departure will facilitate a sense of continuity for staff, clients, and funders.

We hope that each of you will get the opportunity to meet with Sharon soon and encourage you to contact her at sharon@acknowledgealliance.org or 650-314-0181 should you wish to reach out to her personally.

The Board is confident that Sharon will lead Acknowledge Alliance to the next levels of growth and success, and we look forward to your continued partnership and support in these pursuits.

Sincerely,

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Steve Hope
Board President

Random Acts of Kindness

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We couldn’t let Valentine’s Day pass without letting you know that we value you as our supporter and that we love all that you’re doing for our community. We hope that you continue to celebrate love and share joy throughout the weekend and consider a new tradition this Sunday, February 17, which is National Random Acts Of Kindness Day.

Random acts of kindness can improve our well-being, increase our sense of happiness, and reduce stress. Researchers have studied kindness and their studies indicate that helping others is beneficial to our own mental health. Kindness cultivates a mindset that puts compassion for others before our own interests. Kindness promotes gratitude and empathy. It helps us feel connected with others, which strengthens a sense of community and belonging.

In our Project Resilience social emotional learning curriculum, we explain to students that a random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a kind person to help a random stranger feel happier or better. We encourage students to perform a random act of kindness in their own time. They have an opportunity to share their experience with the class and reflect on their feelings in their journals. Teaching our youth kindness is important because not only does it help them feel good about themselves, they also help others feel good about themselves. Through these shared connections, they gain compassion and learn empathy, which contributes to a positive school culture for all.

We started a list of 10 random acts of kindness ideas to share with you:

  1. Smile and give a compliment to a stranger.
     

  2. Hold doors open for others.
     

  3. Let someone cut in front of you in line.
     

  4. Give up a good parking spot.
     

  5. Lend out your umbrella when it’s pouring outside.
     

  6. Help someone struggling with heavy bags.
     

  7. Pay for someone’s morning coffee.
     

  8. Send dessert to a fellow diner.
     

  9. Give someone a handwritten appreciation note.
     

  10. Leave a positive sticky note somewhere in the community.

One act of kindness can inspire a ripple effect of positive events, and even the simplest things can make a difference. Cheers to a celebration of love, joy and kindness!

High Fives for Teachers, from Teachers

By Chris Chiochios, MFT, ATR-BC

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No learning can happen before you build relationships.

Sometimes you need to wait until a child is ready to accept your support.

Be patient with the process.

Teachers from Beechwood School shared some of their “Pearls of Wisdom,” from what they learned after their meaningful group activity.

As an Acknowledge Alliance Resilience Consultant at Beechwood, I work closely with the principal on understanding and supporting the school’s needs. Each year, I lead a professional development session for school staff before the school year begins that focuses on a select few social emotional and resilience themes. In the 2018 school year, the focus was around establishing and practicing keys to cultivating and maintaining social and emotional well-being. The four keys to well-being that we identified and focused on were Resilience, Outlook, Attention, and Generosity. These keys, developed by Dr. Richard Davidson (neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), are rooted in neural circuits and can be strengthened to promote higher levels of wellbeing. They have tremendous impact for educators and all staff at schools, as their wellbeing sets the tone for student wellbeing.

In our first professional development session, I led an activity called New Uses for Ordinary Objects, as a way to begin experiencing the idea of how easy it is to label a student or class in a negative and fixed manner. Six groups were given an ordinary item (such as tissue, a notepad, or a glue stick) and were encouraged to consider both the objects’ purpose and how it might also represent an aspect of their work with students. For example, a glue stick could represent a way to glue things together. A participant may then think that seeing this glue stick on their desk during the day will remind them that they can, as a teacher, help students feel “held together” in the classroom. It’s not “just a glue stick” - this activity helped teachers and staff stretch their understanding or definition of each object beyond its ordinary use. Teachers and school staff practiced the skill of reframing and incorporating alternative perspectives while also learning to balance stress, negativity bias, and personal/professional resilience.

We honed in on being able to cultivate a mindset that includes both recognizing and working with challenges that arise, while also maintaining, highlighting, and engaging with students from a strengths-based perspective. The idea of “We are all commas” arose. Seeing students as a “period” at the end of a sentence and being fixated on negative labels can lead to the conclusion “that this is all that they are and they can’t/won’t change.” But, by seeing a “comma” instead, teachers enthusiastically identified that change is possible with support and relationship with others. By calling out that everyone is a comma, teachers and staff also identified the need for avoiding negative labels for themselves and each other.   

We revisited this process in monthly staff meetings throughout the school year. In October, we discussed giving credit to themselves as teachers and appreciating small and large moments in the classrooms and with their students. To give themselves a “High 5,” teachers traced their handprints and wrote a self-appreciation or highlight reflecting times they were a part of a positive moment. Some of their thoughts were:

Being a new parent has opened my eyes wider to the struggles that our families go through daily. I’ve gotten better at listening ‘differently’ to my students’ needs.

I feel good about the fact that, despite my position, students, staff, and families feel comfortable coming to me to engage in conversation. I am doing a good job of focusing, in the moment, on what the person is saying, and what they are feeling.

We combined these with the initial Pearls of Wisdom mandala, already exhibited in the staff room, and added to it during the course of the school year. By strengthening Resilience, Outlook, Attention, and Generosity, teachers and staff were able to understand how their positive mindset and small actions can add up to supporting students in meaningful, profound, and yet ordinary ways. Making visible the countless tiny actions helped set a good model for students, too. Even today, the group activity from last year remains on display, serving as a reminder that everyone on campus continues to have a “hand” in this process!

From 30% to 94%

On Giving Tuesday, we'd like to give YOU our sincerest thanks and gratitude. Your support has made a tremendous life-changing difference for thousands of educators and students in our community. Columbia Middle School is a shining example of how your generosity has helped create caring school communities.

Principal of Columbia Middle School, Mary Beth Allmann, recently shared how our services have positively changed their whole school over the last 7 years. Before receiving services from Acknowledge Alliance, Columbia Middle School was ranked in the bottom 10% of schools in California. According to Mary Beth, “We didn’t know how to define the problem. We tried different things…there was still a missing piece to that puzzle that was around social emotional learning.” In a survey sent to students, one of the questions asked: How many of you feel like you have caring adults on campus? The result was a disappointing 30%. "It proved that there was some disconnect there that we weren't understanding and that we needed help."

Soon after, Acknowledge Alliance was asked to deliver professional development for educators on campus. Teachers began to receive one-to-one resilience consultations from our staff. Through our social emotional learning curriculum, students and teachers learned and practiced essential resilience skills.

Today, Columbia Middle School is recognized as a California Distinguished School. The school culture is different and has changed for the better. In the school’s most recent student survey,  a whopping 94% of students reported that they had caring adults on campus!

Mary Beth’s words of gratitude resonate with us on Giving Tuesday:
“I want to thank Acknowledge Alliance for providing those services. And I want to thank all of you who help make it possible through donations or through providing direct services yourselves. I love where I work, it’s an awesome place to be, and Acknowledge Alliance is a huge part of that.”

Watch the clip below to hear the full transformational story from Mary Beth.

Project Resilience Journals

We hope you enjoy this special “sneak peek” edition of our Project Resilience journals for grades 3 through 7. Our team of mental health professionals created and designed these journals for the students we serve. Every booklet is filled with many pages of valuable lessons and opportunities for self-reflection that are unique to each grade level. Our curriculum is all about social emotional learning (SEL) and helps students and teachers learn and practice essential lifelong skills like regulating emotions, understanding the brain, using problem-solving strategies, and making good decisions. Everyone can build their resilience through a strengths-based focus and through connecting with others, which is the foundation of our program. 

In addition to a variety of creative activities, Acknowledge Alliance staff lead mindfulness and gratitude practices in each lesson. And in that spirit, we extend our deepest gratitude to YOU for being a part of our mission to create more resilient school communities where students feel safe, seen and heard. In this past school year, Project Resilience touched the lives of 3,340 students! When asked which SEL topics were most useful, the top two categories that students reported were mindfulness and character strengths, followed by communication skills and coping with feelings.

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Today more than ever, students face complex challenges in their lives that impact their ability to focus on learning. Many students live in poverty, experience high familial stress, cope with depression, battle immigration issues, and/or are exposed to traumatic events, like abuse and violence. With our resilience-building tools and training, we are not only reaching these students but also supporting educators so that they can maximize their positive impact on youth and overcome teacher burnout.

Airing Now on TV!

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In partnership with MidPen Media Center, Acknowledge Alliance is proud to announce our new television series, Resilience from the Heart.

In our pilot episode, we discussed the importance and impacts of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the classroom. Our Resilience Program Manager, Tracy Lyons, gave an overview of how SEL classroom lessons are implemented. We invited a panel of educators to share their experience and benefits of SEL: Kennedy Middle School principal Steve Hamm; Barron Park Elementary School teacher Sylvia Sanders; and Columbia Middle School teacher Emily Moorehead. The panel was moderated by host Jenée Littrell, Associate Superintendent from the San Mateo County Office of Education.

In this episode, you'll also be able to see a social emotional learning lesson that features the Museum Walk of Feelings! Acknowledge Alliance Resilience Consultant, Chris Chiochios, facilitated a lesson about feelings for 5th grade students at Beechwood School as part of our original "Project Resilience" curriculum. In addition to a mindfulness and gratitude practice, students participated in an activity to help them identify when they feel certain emotions: I feel happy when ___, I feel sad when ___, I feel angry ___, I feel worried when ___. Through this shared group experience and process, students learned about empathy too.

Our Resilience Program Director, Sarah Kremer, says, "We want to ensure young people understand their own emotions, understand the emotions of others, and know how to work well with other people."

We are grateful to have been selected to be part of the MidPen Media Center On-Ramp program. The On-Ramp program helps non-profit, government and educational organizations launch new shows, series or screenings. Through collaboration, non-profits receive production support, and the Media Center broadens its community reach and impact.

The episode will be aired on mid-Peninsula cable channel 28 on the following dates:

Thu, Oct 25 - 6:00pm

Sun, Oct 28 - 9:30am

Mon, Oct 29 - 8:00pm

Tues, Oct 30 - 11:30am

Wed, Oct 31 - 2:00pm

You may also view the full episode below on our YouTube channel anytime you'd like!

From Trauma to Resilience

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We look forward to the education conference we are co-hosting on September 28: How Educators Can Create Trauma-Informed Systems in School Communities, where we will address this critical issue, share concrete strategies to strengthen protective factors against toxic stress experienced by many students and, thereby, improve the learning environment for all students.

On average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, nearly 40% of students in the U.S. have been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives. Traumatic events – like sexual or physical abuse, domestic or community violence, death of a loved one – often cause children to have upsetting, overwhelming feelings that can negatively impact their daily life, development, ability to function and ability to recover. These experiences can lead to continuous states of grief, loss, abandonment, neglect, as well as persistent anxiety, fear, and depression.

For some students, school is the only place where they know they are safe and can form healthy relationships. However, students affected by trauma oftentimes have difficulty engaging at school, as they struggle to learn and connect with others. Their behaviors may come off as being defiant, demanding and disengaged.

Trauma-informed education shifts the question from “What is wrong with this student?” to “What has this student been through?” and “What does this student need to reach their potential?” When students are dealing with harmful relationships at home, educators and counselors may be the only people who help these students learn what a trusting, supportive relationship feels like. School personnel have a central role in children’s lives and they are uniquely situated to identify, respond to, and be impacted by students’ traumatic stress symptoms.

Acknowledge Alliance helps schools improve upon or expand their trauma-informed approach by working with both students and educators. It’s crucial to train educators on the trauma that students walk in with, so that they can support their students in the classroom with empathy and be aware of their challenges in terms of learning. Our team of mental health professionals also provides ongoing training and support to our counseling therapist interns, who in turn help students who are deeply traumatized. Many of the high school students we serve have been victims of violence and extreme physical trauma. Furthermore, it’s essential to support school personnel in not only dealing with students’ trauma, but sometimes, also their own.

The core of our work at Acknowledge Alliance centers on building resilience: the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress. Being resilient does not mean that trauma has been erased and that further difficult situations won’t arise. But, by using resilience strategies, students and educators can gain better understanding of their situation, focus more on the positive, self-soothe in moments of distress, set healthy boundaries, let go of anger through compassion, develop a positive support system, and overcome tough times with grit and gratitude.

Reducing Teacher Stress

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Does teacher stress affect students? The answer is yes. A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University found that “when teachers are highly stressed, children show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.” High levels of stress negatively affect teacher wellness, causing burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance and high turnover rates. These factors hinder teaching and learning, lower student-achievement and increase financial costs for schools.

There is a crucial need to support teacher wellness, effectiveness and retention in order to help our youth achieve the most positive outcomes in school and life. Teachers, whom spend the most time with youth aside from family, have the greatest capacity to positively shape a child’s future. However, 46% of teachers say they feel high daily stress. Often, teachers are overwhelmed by multiple demands and the pressure of achieving academic goals, while struggling to address each student’s unique needs and emotional barriers. For example, when children are worried about their parents’ divorce, those emotions follow them into the classroom and make it hard to focus on schoolwork.

The social emotional health of both educators and students is paramount in our work at Acknowledge Alliance. Each of our services – educator coaching, teacher/leadership groups, social emotional learning lessons and counseling – all focus on strengthening resilience, social competencies, emotional regulation, empathy and meaningful relationships. By building skills and coping strategies into the everyday interactions between educators and students, school becomes a happier, healthier and productive place to be. Through our ongoing support, teachers learn how to better manage stress, engage students and handle challenges without calling it quits. In turn, students feel more connected to school and become more motivated to succeed.

Here are some quotes from teachers who noticed positive changes in their stress levels after working with our staff:

 

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“Acknowledge Alliance staff helped me become more aware of the lack of work/life balance my life had and what changes I could make to get that back on track. Talking to her really lifted a lot of stress off of my shoulders and her continued check-ins helped me tremendously.”

“The Acknowledge Alliance session at a staff development day in January helped me reframe how I approach managing my stress at work and helped me recognize how important emotion-focused coping is to handling stress.”

“The Acknowledge Alliance staff person on site improved my overall well-being with her positivity, support, and willingness to listen and provide advice or insight when needed. She always had a smile on her face, which spread good cheer. My students and I were always happy to see her. Her calm presence and empathetic ear was always a mood elevator. This positive impact on our school community is no small thing since there are so many stressors that go along with the teaching profession.”  

A Special Thank You Message

On Giving Tuesday, we'd like to give our heartfelt thanks to YOU for supporting our work with educators and students! Watch the clip below to hear directly from one of the educators we've worked with for several years. 

At our Appreciation Party earlier this month, Principal Anita Lee shared how our services have directly impacted her profession. As a teacher, she was on the verge of leaving education due to burnout, but her career took a turn when she participated in one of our Resilience Groups and saw the value of it. She is now the Principal of Cherry Chase Elementary School.

One of Acknowledge Alliance's focus areas is supporting adults in education to better support students in classrooms. Whereas the purpose of Resilience Groups is to build the resilience of teachers through small group conversations, the Principal Leadership Group is specialized for principals and administrators. 

Groups are an opportunity for educators to build meaningful relationships with other educators, feel listened to, learn effective strategies for dealing with stress, and share strategies for better communication across the school community. Learn more about our other services here.

A Motivational Transition

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“Our meetings mean a lot to me because sometimes I feel bad or sad and I know I can tell you and you’re going to hear me and not judge me”. 17-year-old student

Acknowledge Alliance is proud to share Ricardo’s success story, as told by one of our Transition Program Therapists.


Ricardo was referred by Sequoia High School District to get support through our Transition Program after transferring from an expulsion school to District High School. In this program, we offer weekly therapy sessions for students transferring or returning to comprehensive high schools from the smaller settings of the County Court and Community Schools, expulsion schools and Juvenile Hall.

This was Ricardo’s second year attending school in the United States after emigrating from Mexico two years ago. His family made the decision to send him to live with his family in the US because he was deeply involved in a gang in Mexico, which meant that his life was in imminent danger.

From our first session, it was clear that Ricardo was overwhelmed. He struggled to adjust to the new school’s academic expectations, student volume, and social and economic diversity. His relationship with his mother was unstable as well, and he was greatly missing his maternal grandmother, with whom he grew up.

Ricardo and I met weekly, sometimes twice weekly, during school days. He showed up to every meeting with no exception, sometimes asking to meet again, during more strenuous times. He became comfortable expressing his emotions, whether it was sadness, joy, or anger. When he tried to make sense of certain situations and/or relationships, he often referred to previous conversations we had.

Through our sessions, Ricardo learned to understand and value the perspective and maturity he gained through his life experiences and tragedies. He developed a better sense of who he is, what his needs are and where he can get those needs met – allowing him to manage himself better within and outside his relationships. “I can control my reaction to my mom better, because of therapy.”

By the end of the year, Ricardo felt that he had adjusted to school and became strongly motivated to succeed: “When I started going to school, I just wanted to waste my time, but now I want to graduate and go to college.”

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2016-2017 Evaluation Highlights

We are pleased to share highlights of the comprehensive evaluation of our programs during the 2016-2017 school year.

Resilience Consultation Program

• 94% of educators working with Acknowledge staff reported an increased awareness of student social and emotional issues.

• 93% of educators reported using at least one strength-based strategy - such as talking supportively to students who are struggling, communicating high expectations to students and focusing on positive things students do rather than negative things - at least monthly to engage and reach their students.

• 90% of educators reported an increase in positive educator/student relationships.

• When asked which Social Emotional Learning topics were most useful, the top two categories that students reported were friendship and mindfulness, followed by problem solving and character strengths.

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"I am already empathetic and understanding of the lives of the students, but it is very easy to fall into a negative mindset about why students are behaving in certain ways and why they aren't doing what we are expecting. Making a conscious effort to view our students through an empathetic and understanding lens has made a huge difference to my teaching."
— Teacher

Collaborative Counseling Program

• 95% of Court and Community School students reported that their counselor listened to them without judgment and was someone they could trust.

• 93% of Transition students reported that counseling helped them to express their emotions constructively.

• 93% of Transition students were enrolled in school and working towards high school graduation.

• 100% of therapist interns we trained reported an increased understanding of the high-risk, multi-cultural adolescent population they worked with.

“Counseling was very helpful to me because it helped me express my feelings and thoughts with someone who actually listened to me and had good things to say about them. Also it was really helpful because I received tips and advice that helped me a lot throughout the whole time I’ve been here.” — High school student

Suicide Prevention Awareness

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for persons aged 10-24.

In 2009, our Social Emotional Learning lessons were piloted as a response to the youth suicide clusters in Palo Alto. Concerned teachers and parents wanted to know what could be done in elementary school to strengthen student resilience, so that youth can better navigate their teen years. In the past 2 years, we’ve been offering teacher resilience groups at the high school level too.

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Recently, Acknowledge Alliance was a key contributor to the K-12 Toolkit for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which is being promoted across the state. The State of California enacted into law the “Pupil Suicide Prevention Policies” requirement, AB2246. All California Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must have this policy in place by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. The Toolkit is included in the Model Policy as a resource for implementing this policy. The Toolkit contains information about what schools can do to promote youth mental wellness before mental health concerns arise, how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis, and how to support a school community after a suicide loss. The Toolkit also supports a school’s primary goal to educate youth because mental wellness is essential to the ability to learn. 

Sarah Kremer, our Resilience Consultation Program Director, co-wrote sections of the Toolkit on how helping students develop social and emotional wellness can aid in suicide prevention. Here are some excerpts:

A safe and caring school climate includes feeling safe at school, feeling part of decision--­making, and having a sense of school connectedness, which “is the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals”( CDC, 2009b, SAMHSA Toolkit, p. 12). Suicidal behavior can be reduced as a sense of school connectedness is increased. Combining suicide prevention with efforts to increase connectedness furthers both goals.  

Part of mental health promotion and suicide prevention in youth lies in the development of students’ social and emotional wellness. (Note: “wellness” refers to overall emotional well-being for the purposes of this document.) Two evidence based strategies, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mindfulness, share similar goals and outcomes for the emotional, social, and academic development of youth. Both enhance youth academic achievement and wellness, decrease risky behaviors, and improve relationships with peers and teachers. Each uses a different approach to achieve these outcomes (Lantieri, Zakrzewski, 2015). The SEL framework promotes intra-personal, interpersonal and cognitive competencies. Mindfulness, paying attention in a systematic way, deepens the internal ability to apply the skills learned through SEL. These strategies complement each other. SEL develops skills and Mindfulness enhances the ability to apply those skills such that a student can better understand themselves and others, develop meaningful relationships, and make constructive decisions.

This is why all our Acknowledge Alliance services around social emotional learning and resilience are so important. We intentionally support and work with everyone in school communities – students, teachers, principals, families and mental health counselors – to create positive learning environments that further personal growth, connectedness, happiness, success and hopeful futures.