Promise Zone Open House

By Sebastián Líppez-De Castro (GA, Institute for Multigenerational Studies)

On Wednesday September 14, 2016 more than 60 guests visited the Binghamton University Downtown Center to see the new office space for Broome County Promise Zone and learn about the exciting plans for this academic year.

Luann Kida addresses the attendees
Luann Kida addresses the attendees.

Luann Kida, Community Schools Director, presented Promise Zone staff, shared its accomplishments and plans to continue working with Broome County Schools. Kida pointed out the Promise Zone commitment to boost students’ retention and success, as well as to make schools a community asset where not only students, but also their families and communities at large, gather to join culture, diversity, learning, health, and other social services. In so doing, Promise Zone partners with school districts across the county to offer programs such as the Attendance Awareness Month, the Summer Zone (Camp), Social Skills Groups in Classrooms, Academic Support and Tutoring, After School Groups, Family Fun Nights, Parent Cafes, and much more. Promise Zone also collaborates with SUNY Broome, Binghamton University, the Broome County Office of Mental Health, Broome-Tioga BOCES and Broome County K-12 Schools, to promote Higher Education Access, Retention and Success (BC HEARS). Kida recalled that this is one of the five New York State Promise Zones, and that Broome County´s is made possible due to the collaboration between Binghamton University, Broome Tioga-BOCES, and the Broome County Department of Mental Health.

Dean Bronstein welcomes the attendees.
Dean Bronstein welcomes the guests.

Laura Bronstein, Dean of the Binghamton University College of Community and Public Affairs, welcomed the guests and highlighted this pioneering endeavor. Dean Bronstein remarked that Broome County´s Promise Zone is the only initiative of its type in the country supported and hosted by a higher education institution. In that sense, Binghamton University, through its Institute for Multigenerational Studies, makes a unique contribution by decidedly investing its institutional, physical, research and professional strengths in this initiative. Dean Bronstein also acknowledged the critical role played by Governor Cuomo and State Assemblywomen Donna Lupardo in securing the funds needed.

Furthermore, Dean Bronstein shared her experiences and work with community schools. This construct collects numerous resources in the same place, promotes retention and graduation rates, and helps communities to unite, be more equitable, overcome hurdles, and raise their pride. Dean Bronstein signed copies of her book, School Linked Services: Promoting Equity for Children, Families and Communities, co-authored with Dr, Susan E. Mason. After the presentation attendees from the many university departments and community partner organizations toured the Promise Zone office.

IMS Hosts Paper Tigers – and Discusses Traumatized Youth.

IMS screens Paper TigersOn February 10th the Binghamton University Institute for Multi-generational Studies hosted a stimulating evening of film and discussion on the topic of trauma-informed schools. An overflow crowd of more than 100 people from the Broome County community and faculty and students from Binghamton University gathered at the Downtown Center to watch Paper Tigers, a documentary by James Redford, about a year in the life of selected students, their families, teachers, and administrators at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington.

The school could easily have been in Broome County and the students we get to know in the film, desperately seeking love, safety and validation, are found in every locale. The intimate stories told in this film highlight how adverse childhood experiences (ACES) can change brains and hearts, leaving adolescents vulnerable to both neuro-physiological and emotional challenges as they fight to survive with inadequate support structures.

[Take The ACE Quiz — And Learn What It Does And Doesn’t Mean]

The youth we see in Paper Tigers have uncommon spirit that enables them to share the complex and painful circumstances in their lives. What becomes evident is that without the relentless support of an elder, they struggle to see the difference between real and paper tigers that torment them and stifle their healthy development.

The connecting thread determining the future for each child we get to know in the film is the presence of a stable, caring adult who stands by that child unconditionally.

The evening program, co-sponsored by the Broome County Family Violence Prevention Council, concluded with a panel discussion on the critical issues raised in the film and how the Binghamton community addresses them. Participating on the panel were:

  • Patricia A. Follette, Superintendent of Schools in Whitney Point
  • Mary Kay Roland, Superintendent of Schools in Johnson City
  • Michelle Feyerabend, Director of Academic Coaching, Johnson City Central School District
  • Dr. Denise Yull, Assistant Professor in Binghamton University’s Department of Human Development
  • Dr. Rhonda Levine, Professor of Sociology at Colgate University
  • Luann Kida, Community Schools Director at Broome County Promise Zone

The forum, moderated by Dr. Lisa Blitz, Associate Professor, Binghamton University’s Department of Social Work focused on how Binghamton’s trauma-informed community schools are wrestling with the pernicious effects of ACES.

IMS Paper Tigers Discussion PanelMary Kay Roland said that kids here battle very similar demons as those portrayed in the film. They are “scared to graduate” because of the daunting future looming ahead once they leave the relative security of high school. One avenue by which positive relationships are developed between students and adults in Binghamton is via Promise Zone, a safe place where sharing can occur.

Denise Yull commented how challenging it is for the caring adult to understand how best to approach a child struggling with ACES. It takes specific training, a topic that was not addressed at all in the film. An audience member suggested that every single adult in the school setting is also a human services provider and needs to be trained,

Such training takes resources, Rhonda Levine, Professor of Sociology at Colgate University, suggested. The Lincoln Alternative School seemed not to lack in funding, but which is a formidable hurdle for most schools today.

Denise opened up the topic of institutional racism within the school, which adds to the trauma students of color already may bring from home. That prompted many comments from the audience, and others on the panel, about the irrationality of suspensions as a way to correct in-school behavior. Research shows, Denise added, that even one suspension increases a child’s dropout probability by a factor of three.

Youjung Lee, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Binghamton University, said that trauma is also “institutionalized” in the home. Grandparents she works with are stunned when confronted with the fact their own traumas continue to be visited on their grandchildren.

In light of the fact that such students struggle to stay in one school, often switching to a new one mid-year, Larry Parham, from ‎Citizen Action of New York, summed up the discussion by stating that each school system needs to support every other one, to highlight the positive things going on in our community, and encouraged his colleagues to give voice to their concerns for the sake of the children.