The Gateway to Success partners have a strong collective sense that it takes a whole community to ensure that youth are on the right track and thriving. There is a value and a philosophy that the best outcomes for youth will come from shared work (i.e., it is not just about what the individual agencies are doing). A team-based approach is apparent in a number of activities that the partners are involved in, including a well-attended monthly partnership meeting, which has representatives from both new and veteran partnering local agencies. Although this meeting is cohosted by the school district and the local police department, each of the 27 partnering agencies has an active voice in bringing ideas and concerns to the table. Partners are also linked in less formal ways. For example, they exchange cell phone numbers and communicate quite frequently about pressing events involving youth (e.g., partners at the school district will phone their partners based in mental health or social services about an issue involving a student).
Family members have a continuum of involvement ranging from initially being recipients of services to increasingly taking on leadership roles. For example, many parents of students who are at risk of suspension or expulsion participate in the Parenting Project, which provides practical and emotional support. To date, more than 700 parents have graduated from this program after addressing topics such as parenting, gangs, safety, and social-emotional learning. After the parents graduate, they are often the most vocal supporters of the program and encourage peers to participate. In addition, parents get involved in directly supporting other parents of youth who are at risk. For example, parents implement a self-care group that meets and bonds over a 10-week period, which is initially facilitated by the school district but is otherwise completely owned by the parents.
The Gateway partnership is built around the youth voice, a fact that was reflected in one of the earliest activities of the partnership: administering a needs and resource survey to learn about what could be improved in school- and community-based services for youth. Survey respondents included staff from the school district and local youth-serving agencies, as well as parents and youth (students). The results were then sorted according to whether the respondent was a staff member, parent, or student. Interestingly, a majority of staff and parents felt that the current services were accessible and of sufficient quality, but students did not agree. For example, many students didn’t know where to go for services or how to identify a “safe” teacher to talk with about a sensitive issue. Community forums involving youth were then convened to learn more about the common problems faced by youth when they tried to access positive supports. All partners then made a commitment to systematically address these hard issues, using the input provided by youth as a gold standard and baseline.
Staff members from the school district as well as partnering agencies participate in cross-training. Many roles are represented in the training, including teachers, police officers, and public defenders. Training participants learn about the programs offered by Gateway to Success and how best to connect students and families to these services. They are also trained to understand the basics of social-emotional learning, mental health, and suicide prevention.
Now in partnership with nine universities, Gateway to Success offers a popular intern training academy that has graduated more than 100 interns. The academy includes a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who are enrolled in social work or clinical psychology programs. Interns provide one-on-one counseling and conduct support group sessions with youth. The universities either pay or share the expenses with the school district for the clinical supervision of the interns.
Gateway to Success utilizes evidence-based programs, including the Strengthening Families Program, an internationally recognized parenting and family strengthening program. It also implements Fresh Start, a fast-growing, promising practice sponsored by partner Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services. This program is designed to help students acknowledge their unique strengths and capabilities and adjust to the differences, climate, and pressures of high school.
Gateway to Success also offers services such as individual counseling and small topical groups. Counseling is provided by supervised college interns as well as partnering mental health agencies. Small-group sessions revolve around topics relevant to youth, including bullying, coping with stress, suicide prevention, and building healthy relationships. They also implement “welcome back” assemblies at the beginning of the school year, make public service announcements, and conduct social-emotional learning promotion activities that focus on the tough issues faced by children and youth.