Tacoma 'Whole Child Initiative’ To Be Highlighted At Aspen Institute Meeting

Nov 7, 2017

Education and business leaders are visiting two schools in Tacoma this week to find out more about an initiative started five years ago to help improve outcomes for kids.

The school visits are part of the conference itinerary for the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development, a group established by the Aspen Institute, a non-partisan think tank. The conference takes place Tuesday through Thursday.

The commission is co-chaired by Linda Darling-Hammond, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University; John Engler, former governor of Michigan; and Tim Shriver, chair of the Special Olympics.

The visits to Jason Lee Middle School and the Science and Math Institute, known as SAMi, are designed to give the visitors a window into how the schools are emphasizing kids’ social and emotional development along with academics.

Josh Garcia, deputy superintendent for Tacoma Public Schools, said the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative brings different groups together – nonprofits, city agencies, the University of Washington Tacoma – to make sure kids are supported in and outside of school.

“We have a partnership with the Metro Parks to ensure there are healthy options, after-school options for athletics and activities in all of our elementary schools now,” he said.

He said other aspects of the initiative include connecting children with mental health counseling services when they need it and automatically enrolling them in rigorous classes such as advanced placement courses. School staff members have also been trained in how to give positive feedback to kids.

As for results, Garcia said the number of suspensions and expulsions has gone down and graduation rates have climbed.

Garcia said the Aspen Institute’s decision to meet in Tacoma is an achievement for the city.

“It’s good for promising practices to be highlighted,” he said. “I think it tells a positive narrative, hopefully, and it gives us also an opportunity to learn from national experts on what should we be thinking of next.”