Violence and drug use down in Escondido schools

Violence and drug use down in Escondido schools
Kimberly Israel, project director for the Safe Schools and Healthy Students Initiative, shares the results of the five-year program with the Escondido Union School District Board. Photo by Ellen Wright

ESCONDIDO — Over the past five years, middle school student suspensions have decreased 75 percent throughout Escondido Union School District, as a result of the Safe Schools and Healthy Students Initiative, according to Project Director Kimberly Israel.

Israel shared the results of the initiative at a school board meeting on Nov. 13.

EUSD was chosen for the Federal grant and it was implemented in the 2008-09 school year. All the middle schools in the district and eight elementary schools were targeted during the first year.

Most services were rolled out to the rest of the district in the following year, Israel said.

The district was among the last cycle of grantees. The initiative no longer receives funding, although a stipulation of the grant stated that the programs be sustainable without funding.

“Much of the work that was started thanks to the grant is continuing,” Israel said.

During the first year, overall school based support was expanded and school social workers were brought in to provide a more comprehensive link to students and their influencers, including parents, school, non-profit and public agency staff.

“We had 2,900 students receiving over 11,000 minutes of service by one of the school social workers at those 13 school sites,” Israel said.

Drug, alcohol and tobacco use was also reduced.

Middle school expulsions due to drugs, alcohol and tobacco decreased 71 percent. Fewer students were self-reporting the use of alcohol within the past 30 days. During the 2008-09 school year, 15 percent of the student body reported they drank alcohol in the past 30 days and nine percent reported they did during the 2013-14 school year.

Fewer students are being referred to community day school, which Israel said, was a direct result of interventions at school sites. She said 78 percent less students are getting referrals.

District wide, 19,000 additional instructional days were added due to a decrease in absenteeism, Israel said.

Another positive impact at the schools is that students are feeling safer, with a 31 percent decrease in students reporting that they fear getting beaten up.

Students also feel more connected to their schools, with 28 percent more middle schoolers reporting they feel a meaningful connection.

Board President Marty Hranek praised the initiative for the positive results.

“There’s no way (students) are going to learn in the classroom unless we take care of their social/emotional needs first,” Hranek said.

Vice President of the board Linda Woods said the positive impacts are also apparent in the justice system.

“When you have the chief of police on a video saying ‘simple fact is, it’s working,’ I think that speaks volumes when they’re seeing fewer kids come through their systems because their needs have successfully been met in ours,” Woods said.

Israel said she is excited by the sustainability of the program.

“One of the main goals, for any project director is to be able to see the life of a Safe Schools Healthy Students grant be sustained and it’s exciting to be able to report that so much of the work that we have started through this grant is continuing,” Israel said. “I feel like this is a meaningful moment in the history of our district.”

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