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HLA House Project: Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline

July 6, 2020

Students in the Health Leadership Apprentice Program, divided into “houses,” work alongside Community-Driven Initiatives to help Central Texas community members address health-related issues. This post is by members of the HLA Red House: Jade Ealy, Daniel Lira, Andrea Martinez, Alcess Nonot, Catherine Tang and Valerie Zubia. For their house project, they worked with the Excellence and Advancement Foundation.

We are thrilled to share the ups and downs of our HLA House Project. From completely changing our initial approach to managing tasks amid a global pandemic, we’ve learned quite a lot about contributing to a community project and working as a team while adjusting to unexpected obstacles.

Our community partner was Courtney Robinson, Ph.D., founder of the Excellence and Advancement Foundation. Building on her research of the systematic construction of the school-to-prison pipeline and racial socialization of children and adolescents, Robinson created the foundation to establish programs that combat the school-to-prison pipeline in Austin.

Robinson’s initial Community-Driven Initiatives proposal was geared toward one of the foundation’s largest events, Healing in the Village Family Festival. The annual event — held at the end of the spring semester at Huston-Tillotson University in East Austin — provides numerous workshops and resources, including healing practitioners, to promote healing and wellness in the community and among families.

Our house modified Robinson’s initial proposal by expanding the target audience to the Austin community at large. We came to this decision by discussing how many people outside the most affected communities don’t even know the school-to-prison pipeline exists. Some of our own house members were even unfamiliar with this topic prior to joining HLA.

Our initial plan was to create a social media campaign leading up to the festival. The campaign would provide infographics with information about the school-to-prison pipeline, adverse childhood experiences, trauma-informed care and cultural responsiveness to trauma. Our main goal was to raise awareness for Robinson’s cause on social media.

As we began working, we realized we wanted to provide information in more ways than one. We decided that, in addition to the infographics, posting interviews with professionals educated on racial inequality in schools would help raise awareness. So, we created an email draft to send to multiple professors and a list of interview questions.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed these plans. Since we were no longer able to interview any professors, we had to forego this aspect and solely focus on creating infographics and other deliverables, so Robinson could still conduct a successful social media campaign for her program in the future.

Initially, we planned to have interviews and part of the social media campaign up and running by the end-of-year HLA showcase. But with all the unexpected changes, we shifted our plan to aim to complete our presentation poster — which includes a summary of what we accomplished this year as well as our infographics — by then.

Reflecting on our year as an HLA House and our partnership with Robinson, it’s clear we learned many valuable skills. HLA allows us to truly engage with the community and encourages us to step outside of ourselves in service to communities we may not encounter otherwise. Together, we learned the importance of delegating tasks, effective communication and how to build a project from the ground up by outlining the vision, deadlines and deliverables.

Working with Robinson and the Excellence and Advancement Foundation taught our house that the best way to be there for somebody is to show up and continue showing up. For us, this looked like consistently attending weekly Sunday meetings, even when we had a lot going on in our personal lives. Our weekly meetings helped keep us accountable, both to the project and to each other, and our team has been the better for it.

Most importantly, we’ve learned the best way to lead is by example. If we aim to inform and encourage others about how to practice cultural responsiveness and trauma-informed care, we must also incorporate these things into our own lives. While our goal was to educate the general public on the importance of these strategies, our own education has left us with a greater understanding of health care from a perspective our college classes had not yet exposed us to. This project emphasized to us that health is a topic that not only encompasses physical well-being, but also social drivers of health shaped by systemic inequalities that we can all work to eliminate.

We want to thank Robinson and the Excellence and Advancement Foundation for allowing us to partner with them and giving us an opportunity to work on such an impactful project. We would also like to thank the Dell Med Communications team for advising us on how to best improve our infographics. Finally, we would like to thank Steve Steffensen, M.D., the HLA program director; HLA coordinators Madalyn Rosenthal and Valeria Chávez; and the HLA program as a whole for supporting us.