Learnings from the ALIVE/Miss Kendra Pilots in Minnesota

I can’t believe it is mid-August already! That means it is almost time for the Great Minnesota Get-Together and then everyone knows what comes next – Back to School! This seems like a good time to look at what we’ve learned from our school-based, toxic-stress-busting pilots of the ALIVE/Miss Kendra Program. We funded the Miss Kendra Program in three elementary schools in the Fall of 2017 and we are learning what works and what doesn’t work. Also, this program is going through a name change from the ALIVE Program to the Miss Kendra Program. I will refer to it as the Miss Kendra Program going forward. If you want more information about the program, you can go to

Anecdotally, we’ve learned about the conditions when the Miss Kendra Program doesn’t work. Starting any new program in a turnaround school is not a good idea. One of our Miss Kendra pilots wasn’t continued after the first year because there was too much change happening at one time as a school was working to get back on steady ground with enrollment and academics (very important work!). Another Miss Kendra pilot didn’t continue because the program is about empathy and supporting one another around toxic stress and it includes a restorative justice approach to working with children. We learned that this approach doesn’t work in schools with strict, punitive discipline policies. It is simply two different philosophies about how to work with children. The data I am sharing in this post is from Willow Lane Elementary School in White Bear Lake. They finished two years of implementing the program and they are starting their third year of the pilot soon.

The demographics in the suburb of White Bear Lake are changing. Willow Lane Elementary School has students from Solid Ground, a transitional housing program for families (generally a highly stressful situation) and more low- income housing within their boundary than it has had in the past. People always ask about the demographics of the school (60% FRL & 65% students of color), but the reality is no matter who you are, where you live, the color of your skin, or how much money your parents have, there may be highly stressful things happening in your life. Substance abuse, mental illness, and domestic violence can affect any family, so every child needs to have a way to express their worries, be told that someone cares about them, and helps them be strong and resilient.

Willow Lane’s Student Success Coach (behavioral specialist) has been tracking major behavior incidences and suspensions, as an indication that children are calmer and more available for learning. Here is what we found after two years of Miss Kendra in a K-5 Elementary School:
Suspensions decreased by 40% (Out of School Suspensions decreased by 27% and In School Suspensions decreased by 54%)
Major Behavior Incidents decreased by 42% from the year before Miss Kendra started to the present
Major Behavior Incidence broken down by Race (from the year before Miss Kendra started to the present):
34% decrease for Black & Multicultural students
60.6% decrease for White students
35.5% decrease for Hispanic students

Asian students had an increase of 68% from 2016-17 – 2017-18 and then a 44% decrease in 2018-19. This had to do with new students that came in 2017-2018 that accounted for a significant amount of the major behavior incidences that year. It was interesting for me to learn the impact that a few new students can have on the culture of a school. In the 2018-19 school year at Willow Lane, new students accounted for 280 major incidences or 28% of the total. If the student population had stayed the same (not a reality) the decrease in major incidences would have been more significant, which tells me it takes some time for the Miss Kendra Program to calm the new students.

As we enter the third year of the pilot, I expect to see more significant decreases in suspensions and major behavioral incidences because each year it becomes baked into the culture of the school. Toward the end of the 2019-20 school year, the teachers at Willow Lane will be trained to do the Miss Kendra Program in their schools so it is more financially sustainable for the school over time. The cost for the program goes down to $2,500 per year for support from the Miss Kendra staff (rather than having them come into the school to implement the program). White Bear Lake School leaders see the Miss Kendra Program as the 1st Tier of their social emotional work with children. This program is a half hour per week for all students. More serious issues are still referred to social workers and school-linked mental health professionals. They see this strategy for all the WBL Area Schools, so we are hoping the teacher-led model is the answer for them. The elementary school teacher-led model has been tested in North Carolina and the teachers found they liked doing this program themselves because they knew more about their students and could empathize with them. Behavior issues still declined with this new model and reading scores are increasing in those schools. We are starting two new pilots at Birch Lake Elementary School and Vadnais Heights Elementary School in White Bear Lake. We will fund the first two years of the program and the teacher training so the schools can sustain the teacher-led model in the future.

We are also piloting the teacher-led model at St. Paul City School and Paladin Career and Technical High School. These two schools will provide a new learning ground for all of us. Their teachers have been steeped in trauma training but needed a program to ground what they know into good practice. Paladin High School is the first time we are trying the teacher-led model at the high school level. We will be watching how this goes for them, knowing that it is never a straight road to progress, but we are all learning along the way.

I am so grateful for the school leaders and staff that have been willing to try the Miss Kendra Program. We know children come to school with toxic stress and I’m grateful for the people who want to figure out how to help children work out that stress in healthy ways; sharing it with someone they trust, learning to ask for help, and drawing on their strength and resiliency to get through hard times. These are social emotional skills that will set them up for good mental health throughout their life.  In the meantime, schools are calmer and students’ emotional and academic needs are being met along the way.