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With Heart Project – An Organization Dedicated To Empowering Youth

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Below is our recent interview with Kristen Miller, from With Heart Project:

Q: How would you describe With Heart Project in your own words?

A: With Heart Project (WHP) is an organization dedicated to empowering youth who are struggling. We do this by working directly with teens, tweens, schools and school districts using elements of evidence-based programs like Restorative Practices (RP), Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS), Trauma-Informed Practices (TIP) and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). WHP provides direct youth empowerment coaching to teens and tweens individually or in small and/or large group settings, as well as training educators around the world to work with teens and tweens in this capacity.

Q: Kristen, can you tell us something more about your background? How did you get to where you are today?

A: I actually began my professional career in the engineering field: spent three years working as a civil engineer, then decided my calling in life was to teach. So I went back to school to get my teaching credential and began teaching at a high-poverty high school in Sacramento, California, teaching Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1, Geometry and AVID. I fell in love with that population but became incredibly burned out after a few years and was offered a position at a high-performing arts-based charter school in the same school district. I took that job figuring I could use more of my art and music background to help reach kids and felt very fulfilled for five years until I realized how much I missed the population I worked with from my first teaching job.

I was offered a position at another high-poverty high school where I was also given the opportunity to build a Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway to replace the engineering pathway that had fizzled out over the years. I spent countless hours building this pathway, and in the inaugural year, I saw so many students transform and light up with excitement in the courses I created because they had what felt like meaningful work to do. Even though I was sure this was where I was going to finish my career, the universe had other plans for me, and I ended up shifting to a career in administration. I went back to school again and got my Master of Science in Educational Leadership, then the following school year was hired as an Assistant Principal at a middle school in Sacramento, California. There were many aspects of this job that I loved but ultimately realized that my true passion and calling lied in empowering kids to succeed. The assistant principal job had that ability, but also had the responsibility of disciplining students when they made mistakes, as all kids do.

I made the decision to start With Heart Project in 2018 so I could work directly with kids, teachers, administrators, and all other school personnel, to empower youth who were struggling, help kids find their own passions and follow them. Since I began in 2018, so many exciting opportunities have come my way. I became a certified trainer and practitioner in Restorative Practices through the International Institute of Restorative Practices, as well as a certified trainer and practitioner in Trauma-Informed Practices through the Child Trauma Academy. I have spoken at numerous conferences across the United States, written a book, provided training and coaching/mentoring for schools, school districts and individual teens and groups of teens. I am so excited about the future and can’t wait to see how this important work will continue to grow and spread!

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Q: What types of products/services do you offer to your clients?

A: We offer a variety of products and services, all of which can be found on our website, but are also outlined here:

• Professional Development/Training for Schools/School Districts, topics include:

  • Behavior Management & Communication Strategies for the 21st Century Student
  • Motivating the Unmotivated
  • Self-Care for Student Care
  • PBIS in the Classroom
  • PBIS for Administrator-Counseling Teams
  • The Power of Checking In
  • RP in the Classroom
  • RP for Administrator-Counseling Teams
  • IIRP Certification Trainings:
  • • Introduction to RP & Using Circles Effectively

    • Facilitating Restorative Conferences

  • SEL in the Classroom
  • The SEL-Academic Link
  • Trauma-Informed Practices

• Ongoing Coaching/Mentoring/Support in any of the topics listed above
• Professional Speaking/Keynote Speeches
• Youth Empowerment Coaching

  • Individuals
  • Small Groups
  • Large Groups

This is a list of what we currently offer, but our organization is a needs-based organization and changes with the needs of the communities we serve. As such, we are constantly striving to evolve with the changes and demands of society and our communities.

Q: Why do we need to give attention to social-emotional wellness? Why now?

A: There has never been a more important time for this work. Since 2008, suicide rates among adolescents aged 10-14 have nearly tripled. Kids are struggling. 2008 was the year that Facebook launched, and social media became prominent in the world. In many ways, this has helped people stay connected with family and friends that they love, but it has also caused a very destructive cycle for our young people. When I was growing up, if I encountered a difficult bullying-type situation at school, I could go home to my safe space and take a break from the destructive behavior I was encountering at school. Now, kids are exposed to it nonstop. As an administrator, I can’t tell you how many situations I dealt with involving cyber-bullying. Kids would post cruel things about each other on Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, etc., then because it was so easy to spread the cruel post around, it would blow up on school campuses causing an even bigger disruption to the learning environment. Again, kids are struggling and they need our help, our guidance.

The other piece of this is how technology has changed the way we educate our students. When it comes right down to it, if a student really wants to learn how to solve an equation for x, he/she can look it up on YouTube or Khan Academy. There are so many amazing educational resources out there to instruct academics, and with that, our job as teachers has shifted dramatically. Yes, of course, it is still important to teach academics in the classroom. However, if we can’t manage the destructive behaviors stemming from social-emotional issues that disrupt the learning environment, students will never be able to learn academics in the first place.

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Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: In the immediate future, I am going to continue doing what I’ve been doing and infuse social-emotional learning in schools and school districts across the United States. With technology, I’m excited to begin offering a variety of virtual professional development/trainings so I can reach more schools and districts throughout the nation. I’m also currently a Doctoral student and am excited to see where the completion of my degree takes me. I’m currently an adjunct professor at Brandman University and am excited to continue this work to help more teachers make a difference in the lives of their students moving forward. Finally, I hope to continue learning about and shaping educational policy in California, so each and every student gets the social-emotional instruction they need to achieve their highest potential. Sky’s the limit and I’m on my way!

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