Best Starts for Kids Supports School-Community Partnerships

partners Jul 10, 2020

Unleash the Brilliance and Cascade Middle School’s Partnership Helps COVID-19 Response

By: Isabel Callaway, Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) BSK School Partnerships Evaluation Team and Terrell Dorsey, Founder and Executive Director, Unleash the Brilliance

This blog is the third blog of a three-part series about the first year of the Best Starts School Partnerships evaluation.  Read the first piece here and the second piece here.

Things have changed dramatically today, since the first year of the Best Starts School Partnerships evaluation.  With COVID-19, school-community partnerships have continued to play a critical role in supporting students as we navigate this pandemic across our communities.  Terrell Dorsey, Founder and Executive Director of Unleash the Brilliance (UTB), a Trauma Informed Restorative Practices awardee shares about UTB’s collaborative partnership with Cascade Middle School in Auburn School District and how they have worked together to respond to COVID-19:

When Unleashing the Brilliance started working at Cascade Middle School, to provide Trauma Informed and Restorative Practices for minority students, our team would listen to stories about the rapport between teachers and students. After hearing these stories, it became clear to us that we would have to tread carefully between two strong opposing forces of influence.  The first represented some minority students, and their parents, who had judged white teachers as being unfair and racist. The second represented some white teachers who were tired and impatient with the lagging engagement and performance of minority students in the classroom. We realized immediately that we would have to create a bridge of understanding and trust to unite these two opposing forces by providing remediation and mitigation. In the first year at Cascade, our organization attempted to do this work alone without the full inclusion of all teachers, staff and parents. 

A Deep Dive with Equity

During the second year, we needed our remediation and mitigation to be more effective.

We had to do a deep dive with equity. We had come to realize that equity is not only a word, it is an action. Equity is not only an action, it is a prescription for emotional pain relief. Equity removes multiple layers of education barriers and creates a platform for enormous opportunities. We intentionally met with all of our scholars, parents, teachers and staff to communicate a sense of urgency around equity and what we could ALL do in solidarity to change the climate and culture of the school environment. 

The timing was critical because it would prepare us for the unexpected COVID-19 crisis.

Set for Success in Uncertain Times

Thanks to Best Starts For Kids, our partnership (coined The Power of Belief Alliance) would enable us to setup a space and system to meet weekly with the school principal, vice principal, dean of students, counselors and school psychologist along with other Best Starts grant awardees from School-Based Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment and Out of School Time strategies. Together, we identified our students who were already vulnerable pre COVID-19 and who could become more vulnerable, and underserved post COVID-19.  Our goal was to maintain a line of communication and provide support for families hardest hit from the crisis. In addition, we provided our scholars with an ease of access to teachers to continue their learning.

A big part of our job is to peer into the future on behalf of our opportunity youth and project where they might be, based on what they are exposed to in today’s climate of uncertainty. Could COVID-19 and the inequities that manifest with it adversely affect the life trajectory of our students? Could the current unrest and civil protest around unfair treatment to Black people or other minorities help us or set us back? Acknowledging these two distinct issues as emergencies, we know we must step-up to help reduce and/or eliminate unnecessary hardships for our students and their families to help them today during this time of crisis and protect their future tomorrow.

Delivering Education Equity

The best way for us to do this as a community-based organization (CBO) is to unite with other CBO partners, the teachers, staff, parents and students of Cascade Middle School. We must build a collective that delivers education equity. We are now in the moment where we must believe that equity is a two-way street. When equity is given, it must be respectfully received in order to be sustainable. The Power of Belief Alliance Delivers Education Equity.  Today, we are encouraging our teachers to deliver equity and training our scholars on how to embrace equity and why it is important to achieve academic success. Providing real equity allows students of color to feel valued and respected and expedites growth and maturity for all people involved in the process.

“The Power of Belief Alliance Delivers Education Equity.” This statement drives the work of the UTB/Cascade Middle School partnership, as demonstrated by UTB and Cascade students, parents, and staff at Mill Canyon Earthworks Park in Kent on June 7, 2020.

Unleash the Brilliance’s partnership with Cascade shows the power of community-based organizations and schools joining together to provide opportunities for students who face systemic barriers in pursuing their educational, career, and life goals. It’s also an example of how having such a partnership in place allowed the community to quickly adjust to address students’ emergent needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and time of civil unrest and protest.

For more information about Unleash the Brilliance please visit For more information about Cascade Middle School visit