C E L E B RATING DIV E RSIT Y Verde Valley Embraces Kids at Hope by Dr. Paul Tighe, Superintendent, Mingus Union High School District #4 Members of the Sedona International City of Peace recognize that if the world is to change, it must be changed one child at a time. When a school or community consciously alters their expectations of children, these children seem to rise to the occasion. We recently discovered Cottonwood, Arizona made a huge shift in its perception and labeling of some of the community’s children from “youth at risk” to “kids at hope.” We believe it is an excellent example of laying the groundwork for a culture of peace. K ids at Hope was founded in 1993 in the Verde Valley of Arizona as part of a national and local effort to reverse the stigma and stereotype associated with the phrase “youth at risk.” This term, which was created to summarize the many challenges our children face, has unwittingly taken on a life of its own; it has been used, abused and misused in a manner that blames our young people for their circumstances. As a result, the “at-risk” stereotype has prematurely judged our youth guilty until proven innocent. In a Kids at Hope community, everyone believes all children are capable of success, no exceptions. The focus is on what a child can do and what she or he is capable of doing. It is a belief system designed to engage and activate entire communities to support success for all children. 24 IMAGINE l Autumn 2015 The research behind Kids at Hope aimed to answer the question: Why do some children succeed and others fail? As a result of this interdisciplinary examination, several profound recurring themes consistently surfaced. The most prominent of those themes include: l Children who succeed have people in their lives who believe they can and will succeed. l Children who succeed have meaningful relationships with caring adults. (Children who fail are disconnected from those meaningful relationships and grow up in our institutions, programs, services, and activities in a manner far less likely to shine a light on their individual specialness.) l Children who succeed can articulate their future in four domains: home and family; education and career; community and service; and hobbies and recreation. l Children who succeed are offered greater opportunities to develop their strengths rather than to correct their weaknesses. l Children who succeed are nurtured by a culture that is focused on success and strengths. In school districts case studies, adoption of the Kids at Hope ideology delivered real and measurable results: attendance increased from 74 percent to 89 percent, mobility decreased from 47 percent to 15 percent, student satisfaction increased from 67 percent to 92 percent, parent satisfaction increased from 75 percent to 95 percent, and AIMS passing rates went from 15 percent to 63 percent. There were also distinct reductions in behavioral incidents at the school campuses. The Verde Valley has embraced Kids at Hope, with its three universal truths: l We believe that all children are capable of success, with no exceptions; l We connect with all children in a meaningful, sustainable way; and l We time travel by teaching children to visualize their future in four destinations. Through the Kids at Hope cultural framework, many organizations in the Verde Valley and across Yavapai County have united to align efforts to help all children achieve success. A steering committee comprised of leaders from many organizations meets monthly to guide these efforts. For more information, please visit the Kids at Hope website at www.kidsathope. org or contact Brandi Bateman at Mingus Union High School District (928) 478-7943.