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District receives St. Paul Foundation grant to implement training for staff, enhance connections with all students

student and teacher interacting at school

Friday, Feb. 8, 2019 — South St. Paul Public Schools (SSPPS) and Innocent Technologies are excited to announce the receipt of a $210,000 grant from The St. Paul Foundation to implement a new training program for district staff called “Seeing the ‘Good’ in Every Child.”

“This grant helps us to provide a holistic approach to student engagement and learning,” said Connie Garling-Squire, director of early learning and equity. “This grant and partnership with Innocent Technologies will focus on what we as adults in the system can do to ensure that we are reaching each and every child we serve without preconceived notions of who they are or what baggage they may bring.”

Through building level learning cohorts, SSP staff members will have the opportunity over the next two years to participate in “Constructing the Innocent Classroom,” a professional development experience for educators. According to Innocent Technologies, which provides the training, this intensive workshop series “changes how teachers think about and engage their students.” Through conversations and real-world examples, the training delivers context and practical strategies for building relationships with every child. The workshops equip school staff “with understanding and practical strategies for connecting with every child — and channeling those relationships into learning and growth.”

Superintendent Dave Webb stressed that Innocent Classroom is not a discipline program or program to address student behavior. “Innocent Classroom is going to help all of us to build our skills and practices around issues of empathy and understanding of difference so that we better engage each of our students,” he said. “I am excited about the team-building and conversations that will be generated among the staff with this learning experience. But in the end, I am most excited about helping and supporting SSP students, meeting them where they are at and helping them grow and succeed.”

Webb added that the Innocent Classroom program aligns well with several strategic initiatives in the district. The district’s strategic equity efforts seek to increase the capacity of all SSPPS employees, students and stakeholders to develop cultural and racial consciousness and competence. In addition, the district is working on ways to support teachers, families and learners with best practice tools and research-based strategies to reduce behavioral barriers to learning through a comprehensive social-emotional learning (SEL) system.

According to Innocent Classroom Founder Alexs Pate, Innocent Classroom fills the “gap between educators’ lived experience and the students they teach … fueling the negative stereotypes that undermine achievement. We are working to transform education through bold action on behalf of children — one classroom, one school, one district at a time.”

Staff trainings in SSP are scheduled to begin with district leadership this spring, with school level educator and staff cohorts workshops slated for fall. Additionally, the district is planning a special presentation to the School Board by Innocent Classroom trainers this summer.