“All children are capable of success. No exceptions!” What if every adult believed in this statement for every child, no matter their circumstances? This is a belief system that Kids at Hope, a non-profit child and youth development organization based in Phoenix, firmly stands by – along with the 82 Arizona schools implementing the research-based model.
When children have a caring adult in their lives who believes in them and has a strong connection with them, they have the support they need to figure out what they need to do to get where they want to go in life, said Rick Miller, founder and chief treasure hunter of Kids at Hope.
What is known intuitively about the importance of meaningful, sustainable, caring relationships also has been validated by research, Miller said.
“Children and youth do better in school and life when they are connected to caring adults,” said Miller, a professor of practice at The Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.
Developing strong relationships with adults and receiving support and guidance are essential for children’s learning and well-being, Miller said.
“Unfortunately, many kids do not get those relationships in their home lives, making it even more important that all of our staff serve as caring adults for all students,” said Dr. Paul Tighe, superintendent of Saddle Mountain Unified School District in Tonopah, which implemented Kids at Hope strategies this past year.
Know 99 Television video: Sunnyslope Elementary Kids at Hope Destination Day
The story of Kids at Hope
For the past 25 years, Kids at Hope has spread its message to 21 states and 450 organizations to have helped 650,000 young people learn that they are all capable of success – no exceptions.
Today, Kids at Hope is practiced in 82 Arizona schools representing 25 school districts and that number is growing. It is estimated that over 50,000 Arizona students benefit each day from Kids at Hope’s culture.
“We are starting a new partnerships with Tucson Unified and Humboldt Schools,” Miller said.
It’s important that all organizations that serve youth have a culture that believes in all kids, connects with all kids, and time travels, which means helping children visualize their future, as well as understand the pathways to their goals, and appreciate and acknowledge of the level of energy and commitment needed to get there, Miller said.
“It is not risk or trauma that prevents kids from succeeding, it is the absence of hope,” Miller said. Hope can be taught and learned.”
Kids at Hope partners with educators, leaders in the juvenile justice system, child welfare officials, law enforcement officers, sports and recreation leaders, and behavior management specialists, because “kids do not grow up in one institution, program or agency, but they are the sum total of all their experiences,” Miller said.
TEDx video: Rick Miller of Kids at Hope:
The Kids at Hope model
Kids at Hope uses evidence-based research to train adults to become “treasure hunters” who make a positive difference in the lives of children by searching “beneath the surface of these children to find the talents, skills and intelligence that exist in them all, which all too often are overlooked because we’re focused on their behavior,” Miller said.
These connections are critically important, Miller said.
“We are a social species. We need each other to learn, to navigate life, to support, encourage, inspire, empower, and transform,” Miller said. “From our first entry into the world, we thrive when we are attached. This basic human need never ever leaves us.”
Up until recently, these important connections often were not given the attention they deserve by schools, Miller said.
“We track a lot of data about our kids: grades, test scores, excused absences, unexcused absences, disciplinary referrals, credits, and the list goes on and on,” Miller said. “However, we don’t track relationships, and yet knowing which students are connected and which kids are not is so critical to their emotional, social and cognitive development.”
But that is changing, because over time educators and leaders in other organizations have learned that “to teach a student you must first reach a student,” Miller said.
How Kids at Hope brings hope to students in schools
To better connect and provide support for students, Saddle Mountain Unified trained all staff in the Kids at Hope ideology, Tighe said.
“The first step was to ensure all staff understand what it means to instill hope in children and how we can ensure all children have the support they need in an environment conducive to success,” Tighe said.
To that end, the board-adopted goals in the district’s strategic plan and each school implemented strategies to foster a culture of hope to ensure that the ingredients for all children to be successful are in place across the district, Tighe said.
“With the initial focus on beliefs of staff members and students, we are beginning to shape changes in behaviors, since our behaviors are driven by our beliefs,” Tighe said.
Employees trained in Kids at Hope, have told Tighe how they plan to use it in their professional and personal lives.
“I began my teaching career with great intentions to help all of my students, but very few tools and strategies to do so. Kids at Hope has helped me to not only change how I view the students entering my classroom but also how I work with them,” said Jackie Burkett, a teacher in the district. “Rather than feeling bad for students that have difficult lives, I am able to support them and empower them to have hope for their futures.”
“Having the kids at hope framework as part of our core belief system of our district really focuses everyone on the mission that everyone’s success is critical; not just a select or privileged few. That is the definition of an effective school,” said Kevin Kilborn, data and assessment coordinator for the district. “It’s great to know that I’m sending my kids to a school where everyone is committed to a shared responsibility to see them succeed.”
Transportation Director Kim Young said it’s important to show “not only compassion and caring for our childre,n but for our parents and staff also. Hopefully help everyone understand there is good in all human kind.”
At Saddle Mountain Unified, students recite the Kids at Hope pledge each day, each school fosters this culture through activities that have been successful in other Kids at Hope schools, and the district uses surveys to monitor progress and guide actions, Tighe said.
Helping kids ‘time travel’
A critically important way that caring adults support students is to help kids ‘time travel’ to see themselves in the future, Tighe said.
Adults need to help kids think about what it will take to have the home and family life they want, be able to do the hobbies and recreation they enjoy, look at how they will give back to their community through service, and what kind of education they will need to be successful in the career they’d like, Tighe said.
“Schools traditionally focus on education and career, without much attention to the other three (areas),” Tighe said. “Through Kids at hope, we are focusing more holistically on all four destinations.”
It can be difficult for children in tough situations to see themselves in a better place in the future, Tighe said.
“Our caring adults need to help them see a better future, show we believe they can get there, and then help them on the journey,” Tighe said.
At the district’s convocation this school year, Rick Miller engaged with employees in a panel discussion about how Kids at Hope has impacted them and their students, Tighe said.
Hearing “the stories of success across the district and the passion from the staff members was amazing,” Tighe said. “When I visit classrooms and attend school events, I can see evidence of the positive impact on kids.”