STORY #18: OCU’s “DC-Deep” Model
“It is so thrilling to start with a small idea or concept, then to come together and combine our strengths and resources to create something bigger and more beautiful than we could have imagined.”~ Michele, OCU School-Based Mental Health Clinician
One Common Unity (OCU) and DCPS’ Perry Street Preparatory (PSP) Public Charter School began a working relationship right before the pandemic hit. Despite confounding barriers the pandemic placed, Fly By Light Senior Facilitator Tyler Grigsby, OCU’s School-Based Mental Health Clinician Michele Chichizola, and Perry Street Preps’ Performance Art Teacher Tiana Thomas (also a graduate of OCU’s 2019 FBL National Training) managed to create a symbiotic relationship that has had a profound impact on their students and the school’s culture.
Read their assessment of how everything has unfolded and what the hopes and expectations are for the future.
As a senior Fly By Light program facilitator, I facilitate workshops through classroom push-ins, lunch groups, after-school and summer programming. These workshops are multifaceted, involving OCU’s five pillars: Social Justice, Social-Emotional Literacy, Environmental Leadership, Arts Expression, Health & Wellness. We build community in the school. We create relationship networks, transform school cultures to include mindfulness, youth leadership, restorative justice, conflict resolution, trauma-informed practice, and transformation.
Perry Street is a perfect example of OCU’s DC_Deep model. We have a Fly By Light program facilitator, a mental health practitioner, and FBL-certified teachers embedded into the school system. I serve as the FBL senior program facilitator, while Michele Chichizola is the school-based mental health clinician. Tiana Thomas and Patience Rowe are Perry Street teachers and FBL National Training graduates.
With this unique opportunity to have four adults in the building steeped in Fly By Light, we can tag team holistic wraparound support for students’ leadership development, social and emotional literacy, mental health, and wellness. It’s a huge privilege to work with such a dedicated and invested team. I feel like we can accomplish anything the students bring to our attention. The administration has also been genuinely receptive to any ideas our team or young people bring to the table. It’s so huge to have that kind of receptivity to try something new, to embrace youth voices and leadership.
One example of this is when I met with Tiana’s class in January 2021. It was the day after the Capitol insurrection. Our students were outraged at what they had seen happen only miles from their school and homes. Tiana and I held space for them to voice their feelings—to really listen to what they had to say.
We scrapped our whole lesson plan for that day to be responsive to their energy and needs. What came out of that space of authenticity was remarkable. The students decided they wanted to take a deeper dive into creating political and social change. They wanted to start making a difference at their school. Rather than despairing at the violent, poor choices of adults, they channeled that experience into something productive.
The Perry Street Prep Student Council was born out of this discussion. Today, the Student Council is now a governing body at the school. Made up of middle school leaders who plan social events and provide recommendations to senior leadership on academic accessibility, mentor younger students and resolve conflicts between peers. They even have segments in the weekly school news!
The example of Perry Street shows what can happen when adults are receptive to youth leadership. Hold space for students to understand current events and see how they can break these cycles and be the change.
I am so always profoundly honored and humbled to hold space for youth and educators to become their best selves.
Officially, I am Perry Street Prep’s Performing Arts Teacher. I use the performing arts to support students’ social and emotional development.
I have to give a shoutout to Ms. Lou, the school social worker who went to a Fly By Light showcase a few years ago, stayed connected to One Common Unity, and insisted that I go to the National Training. That’s where it all began!
I would describe National Training as a multidimensional experience. It helped me learn basic pedagogical skills I can use every day. I learned everything relating to class facilitation skills and creating community in a space that is so important to the learning experience I want to provide my students.
I had some experience building community and facilitation from a summer camp I joined but nothing to the level of intention and care I experienced at FBL National Training. The depth of the theory—why we do what we do and learning about Non-Violent Communication—was a big game-changer for me. I left having a profound understanding of the work. I better understood that the youth I work with may deal with poverty, trauma, and racial anxiety. Having a training program that really addresses these aspects is a big deal.
It’s more than I learned in my grad school program about the demographics and populations of kids we work with daily here in DC. The aspect of wellness and mindfulness—where it’s not just facilitating it for students but yourself, as well—that’s so critical. That self-work is necessary to continue doing community work. The experience I had at National Training gave me tangible tools to use. The curriculum is a vast resource too. This whole experience and the skills I gained have allowed me to move through the pitfalls of teaching and let my work be fulfilling.
The ultimate goal is to close the achievement gap in our community.
To close this gap is not just an academic task. We have to address the wellness of the whole child. To be top-performing academically, they have to be top-performing holistically. The ultimate goal is to create such a strong culture of empowerment, connection, and creativity to address all our children’s needs and allow them to be their best selves. Ultimately, that is what it takes to have a great community—to produce great citizens who contribute to our society.
I want to see our kids performing on stages and expressing themselves. I want to see them continue to create more opportunities for leadership and autonomy over their educational experiences. I hope that together we can be a model and a network as inspiration for other schools in the city of what is possible when you take a holistic, student-centered approach.
Of course, some of the most significant outcomes of our partnership with One Common Unity have been creating the youth council and digital performance showcases. Overall, I notice a shift in the school’s culture where students feel, become, and act empowered—learning better ways to communicate, work together, and be collaborative.
I think this is tied directly to the creative programming they are receiving through Fly By Light.
I am a school-based mental health counselor at One Common Unity, assigned to Perry Street School. I work closely with the wellness team and leadership to produce and implement effective mental health and wellness strategies for the school community. In addition to school-wide support for teachers and parents (Tier 1), I also run small groups within the school community to target anything from social skills, mindfulness, creativity, or exploration of cultural identity (Tier 2). Last but not least, I provide individualized therapy services to Perry Street scholars who wish to participate (Tier 3).
I am in a fortunate position because I can fully immerse myself in the Perry Street Community and collaborate with OCU and PSP leaders alike. One of my favorite ways to collaborate is to have open conversations about needs that we identify within our community.
Our conversations lead to ideas for SEL lesson plans, target groups, individual referrals, and sometimes even a space to breathe and provide each other with needed support. There are many positive outcomes to this collaboration between OCU and Perry Street.
As a newer clinician to PSP, I met so many incredible scholars through conversations with teammates. One of my favorite outcomes last school year was to see the Youth Council come together. This turned into a parallel process across the adult and youth leaders because we (PSP/OCU leaders) had to better identify and utilize our strengths to teach the youth leaders how to identify and use their strengths.
For me, it was extraordinary to see the youth council members take on the role of student mentors for younger students. I was blown away by their natural talents, and ability to connect and empower younger students. I want to continue shifting the school culture to not just academically brilliant but into a proper, wholly integrated system.
Through our (OCU and PSP) partnership, I hope to empower and provide resources to students and staff members alike—so that together, we can raise a new generation of emotionally aware, culturally competent, and driven leaders.
Every day I am blown away by the emotional intelligence of many PSP scholars. They are so driven and have such special perceptions of our world and community. They constantly remind me that we are on the right path, and they give me so much hope for the future of Perry Street and the DC community as a whole.
Turnaround at Perry Street Prep
A short film about Perry Street Prep’s success with “turnaround” – Produced by OCU’s Senior Media Producer, Kimberley Williams and FLY BY LIGHT (the movie) filmmakers, Ellie Walton and Magee McIlvaine.