Working together to bring Restorative Practices to Bexar County schools

Working together to bring Restorative Practices to Bexar County Schools

Founded by the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM) works to preserve and protect Indigenous cultures and traditions. One of those traditions that has gained popularity in recent years is restorative practices which are deeply rooted in healing — healing of an individual, healing in relationships and healing in communities.

Unlike punitive means of punishment that disproportionately impact students of color, restorative practices works to foster support and care in school communities. A long time community partner, AIT-SCM works directly with My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio an UP Partnership network that works on removing systemic barriers to safety, education and career success for boys and young men of color to deliver Community Building Circles to school districts such as Judson ISD and San Antonio ISD.

As AIT-SCM’s former Director of Development Karla Aguilar explains, “while the language of restorative justice is contemporary, the foundation of it is always seeking restoration and renewal to find the well-being of community.”

The AIT-SCM Institute includes restorative justice experts to train and advise community members in restorative justice programming, training and implementation. They teach the complicated process that starts with pain and anger, to address the root causes of the problem. Restorative justice validates lived trauma, while allowing young people to have a voice in the process. They provide tools to resolve conflicts in a positive manner.

An example of this vital work can be seen in AIT-SCM’s strong relationship with Harlandale Alternative Center, a school located within Harlandale ISD which works with opportunity youth to instill confidence and self-worth to ensure students are quality learners and contributing members of society. AIT-SCM provides continued support to the students in the Center as they work to return to their home campuses. The work seeks to lower the rate that students will reoffend when they return to their home campus, which can reduce the possibility of dropping out, disconnection and/or prison. This partnership came about through Harlandale Alternative Center’s principal Andrew Dominguez reaching out to the AIT-SCM directly. 

AIT-SCM also works with students outside of the classroom through The Solution Project, which was established with the help of young people who sought to continue their connection with the organization through ongoing mentorship and support systems. Based on the knowledge that there are many problems in our communities, The Solution Project gives young people a voice in the potential solutions to those ongoing issues. 

“[Restorative Justice] is vital because the poorest school districts in San Antonio are set up to be the ones that hemorrhage young people into the criminal justice system because they are so drastically under-sourced,” Aguilar said. “Restorative justice is cost-effective, viable solution that improves the lives of all those on campus and gives families the tools to be able to unpack the pain they live in on a regular basis.”

The work that AIT-SCM does is heavily rooted in the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, an action-focused strategic plan that brings together cross-sector community partners who are invested in reaching the plan’s collective North Star goal – to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential programs to 70% by 2030. In Bexar County, the number is currently around 50%. The work that AIT-SCM aligns with the healing equity pillar, which is one of the three Future Ready equity pillars alongside access and voice – the must HAVEs for equity among Bexar County’s young people.

If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement or the Restorative Practices Collaborative, please contact to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner or donate to the work here.You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and following us on social media. 

To learn more about AIT-SCM and support the work they are doing, you can visit

Meet UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice Team

Meet UP Partnership's K12 and Justice Team

UP Partnership’s K12 and Justice team works with community partners to move Bexar County’s K12 and Justice ecosystems from a punitive to restorative paradigm, as well as broadening the pathways to postsecondary success for justice-involved youth, opportunity youth and foster youth.

Specifically, the team works to establish a system with various partners to expand healing, restorative practices and the quality of programming for boys and young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio (MBKSA) network and the Restorative Practices Collaborative (RPC).

The mission of MBKSA is simple — to remove systematic barriers to safety, education and career success, ensuring that boys and young men of color have a path to postsecondary success. The work, however, is ongoing.

The purpose of the RPC is to change systems to scale restorative justices in classrooms and communities to increase a sense of belonging and connection for boys and young men of color.

RPC particularly strengthens relationships and provides alternative methods of discipline practices through a comprehensive, focused, community driven strategy. The team works with long-term partners, American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions and Empower House, to deliver Community Building Circles to school districts such as Judson ISD, Harlandale ISD, San Antonio ISD and East Central ISD.

The team spearheading the work of MBKSA and RPC consists of John “JJ” Jacobs, Director of K12 and Justice, Suzette Solorzano, Senior Manager of Coaching and Facilitation, and Tyler Radwin, Manager: Community Engagement.

Get to know the K12 and Justice Team

John Jacobs “JJ” is originally from Tacoma, Washington where he grew up with four brothers including his fraternal twin. He is the son of a pastor. JJ played basketball, ran track, participated in the drama club and competed collegiately with his high school choir.

He graduated from Texas State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications studies. He went on to obtain his Master’s of Science is Leadership from Northeastern University and is currently a doctoral candidate at Walden University.

Married eleven years, with a seven year old son and baby girl on the way, John enjoys eating (“too much”), traveling, singing and running.

John’s advice to all is “Good, better, best, never let it rest until the good is better and the better is best.”

In a previous life, Suzette Solorzano was an elementary school teacher for over 23 years. She is the mother of three children and has been married for 26 years. She is obsessed with thrifting, enjoys life to the fullest and she refuses to grow up.

Suzette’s advice to all is “Life is BEAUTIFUL! Live it on your own terms — you don’t get a do over.”

Tyler Radwin is the newest member of the team, having joined UP Partnership in Nov. 2022.

In his own words, “Somebody once told me I have a ‘natural love of life’ and I feel like that really embodies me. I will always be the one to find the silver lining and a reason to be grateful even when the situation is bleak. While I can’t play an instrument, music powers my life. I am listening to music every chance I get and utilize it to maintain the pace of my day.”

If Tyler could be any dinosaur he would, without any hesitation, be an Ankylosaurus because it has always resonated with him. According to Tyler, they may not be the “coolest” dinosaur but they will always be his favorite.

Learn more information about My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio and the Restorative Practices Collaborative here or donate to the work here.

You can also follow our progress by signing up for our newsletter and by following us on social media.

Organizations join forces to create a national standard for a leadership program geared toward youth-serving professionals

Organizations join forces to create a national standard for a leadership program geared toward youth-serving professionals

UP Partnership’s leadership program for youth-serving professionals sets the standard using Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework

UP Partnership, a San Antonio-based collective impact organization, and Search Institute, a Minnesota-based positive youth development and equity-focused research organization, are collaborating to create a national standard for a leadership development program. This program is specifically geared toward augmenting youth-serving professionals’ ability to better connect and build transformative relationships with those they serve, which in turn helps young people develop character virtues, such as generosity, self-control, civility, respect, humility, purpose, and curiosity.

Since 2019, UP Partnership has led Excel Academy, a leadership program rooted in racial equity, continuous improvement, adaptive leadership, and Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework. The core of Search Institute’s Framework is based on five elements vital to transformative relationships between youth-serving professionals and young people: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power and expanding possibilities. Excel Academy participants are invited to engage in learning around these five elements through a racial equity lens. These elements are important for professionals to utilize in helping young people succeed while also focusing on equity.

“Developmental relationships are close connections through which young people discover who they are, cultivate abilities to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them. Our Developmental Relationships Framework guides youth-serving professionals toward creating meaningful relationships with young people and providing the support and encouragement they need to thrive,” says Search Institute CEO, Ben Houltberg.

Search Institute and UP Partnership have worked together for several years on various projects. In the spring of 2022, both organizations saw an opportunity to scale up Excel Academy through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Through a $1.6 million investment, Search Institute and UP Partnership are currently creating the framework to further expand Excel Academy to a national scale through a new three-year framework that helps organizations to cultivate relationship- and character-rich climates.

“Through Excel Academy more than 75 youth serving professionals in over 26 youth-serving organizations in Bexar County have been impacted through the program, to-date. We are bringing together two professionals each from selected youth-serving organizations – one senior level, one frontline staffer. Having both perspectives at the table is vitally important to ensure diverse voices are heard,” said Emily Calderón Galdeano, UP Partnership’s Chief Strategy and Impact Officer. “The reach that both have to attain feedback from their teams and students inform how the participants create and continually improve their organizational work plans.”

Together senior-level and frontline staff members will co-create an organizational improvement plan that will help them implement changes based on the content covered in the sessions. Frontline and senior-level staff also receive individualized coaching from UP Partnership staff, and training from Search Institute, Quantum Possibilities, and UP Partnership facilitators.

Miray Seward is Search Institute’s Research Scientist and primary researcher for this pilot. The primary lead of Excel Academy at UP Partnership is Senior Manager of K12 and Youth Development Shelby Drayton.

A total of 23 organizations received a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. To learn more about this grant and read more about the other awardees you can click here.

About Search Institute
Search Institute is a nonprofit organization with a sixty-plus-year history of collaboration with youth-serving organizations to conduct and apply research that promotes positive youth development and advances equity. Our tools build connections that help all young people learn and grow.

About UP Partnership
Founded in 2009, UP Partnership is a San Antonio-based nonprofit that convenes partners in Bexar County that provide healing, access, and voice to local youth to create equitable systems and ensure that all young people in the county are ready for the future. Its work is conducted through collaborative efforts with its partners that focus on education and youth development initiatives and have signed on to a community-wide strategic plan called Future Ready Bexar County or its networks of My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, Diplomás, and Excel Beyond the Bell. UP Partnership has 130 local partners and 500 volunteer leaders across seven sectors including: early childhood, preK12, postsecondary education, youth development, workforce, justice, funders, corporate partners and local government.