The Fraser-Cascade school district has seen dozens of students in Hope move from places of concern to paths of success, and now the program that helped make it happen is coming to Agassiz.
“My entire career has been built around trying to make sure … that every student has the opportunity they need for the future,” assistant superintendent Kevin Bird said.
“We serve communities where there are obstacles to students doing well … whether it’s poverty,” medical issues or personal struggles, he said.
Since the end of the 2017-18 school year, the Fraser-Cascade school district has been operating Pathways for Concerning Students in Hope — a program designed to help students get past those obstacles. Colloquially known as “triage,” the Pathways program is a collaboration between the school district, Fraser Health’s Child and Youth Mental Health department, community service providers and medical practitioners.
“Before we were doing it exactly this way, it’s not that we weren’t doing anything,” Bird said. “We were doing all kinds of things. What we’re doing now is more systematic. It’s more guided. There’s more training around it. And that makes it more effective.”
The idea, Bird said, is to bring people from each of these groups together to discuss potential issues about students they feel could be falling through the cracks, students with what Bird calls a “high baseline” of difficulty in their life. This could be anything from unmet medical needs, to drug involvement, to a higher-than-expected number of absent days.
“It frees us up to have a high level of dialogue without some of the hurt feelings,” Bird said. “Then we make a plan and we carry it out.
“Those plans aren’t necessarily short term, they can be quite long term,” he continued. “We’re going to get this child in to see a doctor, and then hopefully … that will help with this need. Or we can get some counselling going.”
Parents are contacted before the situation is discussed, and if the parent gives permission, then the group can discuss how they can best help that particular student. If they don’t give permission, the triage team can discuss the issues more generally, and bring suggestions to the family more broadly.
“In that case we’re more of a conduit to the experts,” Bird said.
Because of the importance of confidentiality, Bird didn’t go into details about any of the students who have been through the triage system in Hope, which operates for students in both Hope and Boston Bar. However, he did comment on the number of students who have had medical issues solved through triage, and the families who say they’ve seen real success from the program.
“The exact thing they said is those people have saved their lives as a family … because of the impact we were able to provide,” Bird said, speaking about one family he had talked to. “So there’s dramatic cases like that where it’s revolutionary for entire families.”
Other cases can be more subtle.
“Maybe somebody got some help with some past trauma and was able to work through it. Maybe there was a substance use issue, and the people needed help but didn’t know how to reach out and that was affecting their child going to school,” Bird said. “They’ve been able to get a service and support … and we as a school system have that kid for another couple years.
“There’s a couple instances where we’ve taken kids who are not really succeeding in school, and suddenly they’re A, B students within a year and a half, because all the stuff that needed to be taken care of outside of school has been taken care of,” he continued. “That’s what it’s about for me.”
In the last year and a half, the number of students who have been going through the formal triage system has gone down. And that’s not a bad thing, Bird said.
“We have fewer people going into triage right now, because we have such solid relationships,” Bird said.
“A lot of times I can look and go, ‘Hmmm, I think this is something that someone has dealt with, and I’m just going to give them a call,’” he continued. “The end result of this is those relationships in the community get so powerful that, at the end of the day, we’re able to do things for kids and their families that we would not be able to do otherwise.”
After more than a year in Hope, the Fraser-Cascade school district is planning on bringing Pathways for Concerning Students to the Agassiz and Harrison area. The program is operating informally now, as many of the same people will be working in the Hope and Agassiz groups, but Bird said they plan to have it officially off the ground by the new year.
“One of the things about education is, we can do a lot. But we can’t solve everything,” Bird said.
“What we’re finding is that the impact we can have when we’re part of one of these sorts of teams … and you’re bringing people together on a regular basis, your efforts multiply, your relationships strengthen.”