True North Belong Circles

True North Organizing Network

True North is a multi-race, multi-faith social justice nonprofit organization that actively organizes in rural America with Native Americans and tribes, Latinx, Hmong, Black, and White communities on the Klamath, Trinity, Smith, Eel, Mad, & Salmon Rivers of northern California and southern Oregon.

One of the school communities that True North supports is Loleta Union Elementary School in Humboldt County. Loleta serves 108 kindergarten to 8th grade students. 93.5% of Loleta’s students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, 47.2% of the students are Native, 35.2% are Latinx, and 11.1% are White. 17.6 % are English Learners and 30.6% are students with disabilities.

 

Photo Credit: True North Organizing Network, Tsek Houdaqh Family Night

 

In fall 2022, True North organizers led school-wide Belong Circles with Loleta Union Elementary students, families, teachers, and school staff for the first time. Students ages 4-16 participated in the Circles. The Belong Circles create an opportunity for community members to listen deeply to one another, and to share their visions, hopes, and dreams for bringing their school community together.

Following the first round of Belong Circles, True North identified a need for additional mental health and wellness support for students. They invited leaders from two tribal-based agencies, Two Feathers Native American Family Services and Northern California Indian Development Council, to join them in facilitating the Circles. They also trained five educators in the Belong Circles methodology.

As the Circles continued, community members began to connect across differences. The Circles created an atmosphere of belonging between Native, Latinx and Spanish speaking, White, and other children, youth, families, teachers, and school staff.

Over 100 students participated in the Belong Circles. They have shared that their classroom atmosphere has improved since the Circles began. Including the teachers in preparing for the activities and ensuring that they are developmentally appropriate and responsive to the needs of the diverse children and youth at Loleta has been critical to the success of the Circles. Now, some of the teachers are beginning to implement the Belong curriculum in their day-to-day classroom activities.

Belong Circles have also been an important tool in building a shared culture of trust with youth and encouraging them to step more fully into their leadership. True North Organizer and Loleta Union Elementary Community Liaison Rose Hernandez expressed her excitement about how youth have benefited from leading Belong Circles. “One of True North’s Belong Circle facilitators is a Native youth who’s in high school, and this process has been beneficial in his development as a leader. It makes me feel so proud to see our youth in our community get involved to make a change.” Rose shared that the Belong Circles are also impacting the community outside of school. “Using the Belong Circles in the Tsek Houdaqh 1 Program here at the Wiyot Tribe has been a very important tool to seeing the community come together and express their thoughts and concerns.”

  1. Tsek Houdaqh - “Where the Children Are” in Wiyot