Visiting teachers from Lincoln High School in Walla Walla Washington were in Alberta to meet and share ideas on how adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) and trauma informed practices have made an impact on a student population. Featured in the Paper Tigers documentary the film asked the questions: What does it mean to be a trauma informed school? And, how do you educate teens whose childhood experiences have left them ill-suited to learn?
This meeting was an opportunity for Alberta school’s to share practices and ideas with 2 of the teachers featured in the Paper Tigers documentary. Teachers Genie Huntemann the English/Reading teacher and Erik Gordon, the science teacher who taught students about ACE’s in his classroom.
To learn more about the Paper Tigers Documentary please visit the main website.
Paper Tigers Documentary overview:
Paper Tigers follows six troubled teens over the course of a year at Lincoln Alternative High School in rural Walla Walla, Washington. Considered a last chance before dropping out, many students come to Lincoln with a history of behavioral problems, truancy, and substance abuse. Then, in 2010, Principal Jim Sporleder learned about the science of what a rough childhood does to a developing brain. “Stressed brains can’t learn” was what he took away from an educational conference. He returned to his school convinced that traditional punishments like suspension were only exacerbating the problems of the students there. Sporleder says: “I was hunting everywhere for the curriculum. It’s not a curriculum. So it was trying to figure out, how do you take this theory and put it into practice?” Sporleder invited the staff, as well as the students, to learn about the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, which shows that stressful events during childhood—like divorce, domestic violence, or living with someone with a mental illness—massively increases the risk of problems in adulthood. Problems like addiction, suicide and even heart disease have their roots in childhood experience. Suspension became a last resort as the school formed an in-school suspension program, keeping the kids in contact with the staff and caught up with their homework. They also established a health center on campus so the students would have ready access to pediatricians and mental health counselors. The biggest challenge for the teachers was to consider the source of the kids’ behavior. Science teacher Erik Gordon realizes: “The behavior isn’t the kid. The behavior is a symptom of what’s going on in their life. Paper Tigers is a testament to what the latest developmental science is proving: that one caring adult can help break the cycle of adversity in a young person’s life. We follow students like Aron, a senior who avoids eye contact and barely speaks in class; freshman Kelsey, who struggles with meth addiction and abusive relationships; and Steven, a senior who has been in and out of juvenile hall since junior high for fights and threatening teachers. As the teachers slowly gain their students’ trust, they hear harrowing tales of physically abusive and negligent parents, homelessness, sexual abuse… The list goes on. Despite the upheaval in their home lives, the students find the support they need at Lincoln to make academic progress, and find less destructive ways of coping. They also find hope for becoming healthy and productive adults as they go out into the world.