In response to the intensive and unique needs of students identified by K-12 educators working in high poverty communities of Northern California, Seneca Family of Agencies has developed the Unconditional Education (UE) model, which uses an innovative, multi-tiered intervention framework that integrates academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports that are universally infused and enhanced by a trauma-informed understanding of the mental health challenges that may underlie students’ needs.

In addition to providing trauma-informed practices that address the needs of students who experience multiple stressors, UE promotes a drastic systematic shift in special education and mental health service delivery by adopting a mindset of collaboration and inclusion. Standard practice across the nation is to view students with disabilities and/or mental health challenges as a specific cohort of students for whom intensive interventions must be specifically targeted and delivered in exclusive environments by trained specialists. UE recognizes that special education interventions must involve the whole school community and benefit all students.

During this session, Emilly Higgs, policy analyst, and Jonathan Barnett, Unconditional Education coach, at Seneca will explore the components of a comprehensive assessment process that engages staff, students, and parents to measure the overall culture and climate of a school. Specific tools and processes will be shared that help stakeholders assess the academic, behavioral and social emotional supports on campus, as well as the overall level of coordination, collaboration, and engagement. They will share how Seneca partners with school communities to engage administrators, teachers, and parents in the process of analyzing multiple sets of assessment data in order to create an Annual Implementation Plan (AIP) for improving schoolwide practice. Higgs will share insights into the local and state policy-level initiatives that support this integrated approach to funding multi-tiered student supports.  

Learning Objectives

  • The need for integrated academic, behavioral, and social-emotional supports that provide a transdisciplinary approach to identifying and responding to student challenges
  • School-wide assessment tools that inform efforts to create a more inclusive and trauma-informed school culture and climate
  • The policy and funding environment best supports a school’s capacity to provide integrated, multi-tiered supports

Presenters: Emily Higgs, policy analyst, and Jonathan Barnett, Unconditional Education Coach, Seneca

Emily Higgs
Policy Analyst
Seneca Family of Agencies

Emily Higgs is the policy analyst for Seneca Family of Agencies, a nonprofit offering a comprehensive continuum of mental health, education, permanency, and placement services to over 17,000 children throughout California and Washington state. In her role at Seneca, she helps advance the policy and advocacy agenda of the agency at the local, state, and federal level. Higgs has worked in partnership with executive leadership to advance legislation that would support the policy and funding environment necessary to support the Unconditional Education approach in schools.

She holds a master’s in social welfare with a concentration in management and planning from the University of California at Berkeley, and is currently a policy fellow with the national Network for Social Work Management.

Jonathan Barnett
Unconditional Education Coach
Seneca Family of Agencies

Jonathan Barnett is a marriage and family therapist who has been working with children and families in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2008. Originally from Chicago, he moved to California to work for Seneca Family of Agencies and pursue his passion for working with youth. In his work with Seneca, Barnett provides school-based therapeutic services, consultation for school staff around behavioral and socio-emotional concerns, coordination of schoolwide interventions such as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and training in the area of mental health. With the award of the Investing in Innovations (i3) Development grant from the Department of Education, Barnett has worked for the last three years as the Unconditional Education Coach at Lazear Elementary in Oakland California.