A program promoting healthy behavior and emotional responses among Medford students got a $10,000 boost from the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation in January.

Project Dove provides support to students in fourth through eighth grades who have been affected by domestic violence or other traumatic experiences. Its outreach began 21 years ago when the district decided to tackle issues with student conduct at Hedrick Middle School. Counselor Chelsea Kemp Davis led a support group for what was then only male students who had exhibited tendencies toward violent behavior.

The program has changed in several ways in the years since. The Medford School District began contracting with the nonprofit Community Works, which helps at-risk youth and survivors of trauma through advocacy, support services and prevention. Project Dove also shifted in scope to include students comprising a greater diversity of age, gender and experience.

Kim Caplan, director of advocacy for Community Works, said the organization tends not to classify its programs as specifically geared toward children coming from homes with domestic violence. Instead, she said, teachers at both middle schools and the five participating elementary schools receive training to spot behavior that may point to a variety of traumatic or negative experiences — from outright violence to withdrawing to psychosomatic responses such as minor but frequently recurring symptoms including stomachaches, which could be the result of extreme stress.

Staff can then send a parent permission slip home with students, which allows them to participate in a once-weekly group session. The sessions typically run from October through April and vary in their subject, but most center on just talking out what may be happening in students' lives.

"We want kids to feel heard, to provide a safe place where they can be heard," Caplan said, adding that peer relationships are a vital aspect of achieving a dynamic of honesty. "You’ll see attendance will go up on a day when (students) know Project Dove is happening."

Caplan said the school district tracks the program's efficacy by using its own metrics, such as attendance and disciplinary actions. Community Works has other methods to report to its grant sources.

"We say there’s going to be at least 50 percent of students who show improved accountability, self-control, tolerance empathy and cooperation, as well as a reduction of the frequency and severity of violent and disruptive behavior," Caplan said.

The nonprofit has a goal of 85 percent of participating students indicating in end-of-year surveys that they are satisfied with their experience with the program. Last year, she said, 100 percent of the students responded positively.

"I think that’s one of the best things about it," she said. "It’s all optional; no student is required to go ... that’s a big deal."

The Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation's grant will help fund the program at its current size, but Project Dove wants to expand. Local grants — and this year, funds from the school district — support the program, but it needs more to expand into high schools, where the desire to spread seems to be the strongest, Caplan said.

The Medford School District and the Cow Creek Umpqua Indian Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.