Washington, DC, City Council Education Committee probes how trauma-informed schools can help students

David Grosso, DC City Council Education Committee Chair

District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso _____________________

Two-and-a-half years ago, a school administrator confronted District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso with a stark and surprising reality when he visited the Walker-Jones Education Campus to learn about a literacy intervention program. At the end of the visit, the school official delayed Grosso’s departure to make one additional point: Something must be done to address the fact that over 40% of all DC students have experienced trauma—a “jaw-dropping” number, according to Grosso.

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Can School Heal Children in Pain? Yes, it Can!

ApaperJames Redford, director of Paper Tigers, a documentary about the journey of students and teachers at a trauma-sensitive alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington, posed a provocative question in a recent blog: can school heal children in pain?

I believe that it can.

While trauma-sensitive schools can’t erase every source of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), considering how many hours of their lives children spend in school, educators can do much to mitigate the effects of traumatic stress, and help students to build skills for resilience and well-being. At the very least, schools can refrain from further traumatizing children.

Children with disabilities and behavioral problems, in particular children of color, are regularly subjected to practices such as seclusion and restraint in school. The data conclusively prove that “zero tolerance policies” driving the school to prison pipeline disproportionately affect students of color

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Can School Heal Children in Pain?

Aredford

After learning about the overwhelming effects of childhood trauma, I decided to make a film about a school that’s adopted a “trauma-informed” lens.

Documentaries are no walk in the park. They take a lot of time and money; they have a way of making a mockery out of your narrative plans. They must share the attention of an audience that is increasingly losing more and more of it.

Why bother? It’s a good question. For me, I have one simple bar that all my films must clear: an “oh my God!” moment. If a story does not elicit that reaction from deep within my bones, I don’t do it. I count on that sense of awe, concern, wonder, and alarm to carry me through the long haul of making the film. To do otherwise, well — it just seems stupid.

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Resilience practices overcome students’ ACEs in trauma-informed high school, say the data

The cast and crew of Paper Tigers take a bow after the sold-out premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival.

The cast and crew of Paper Tigers take a bow after a sold-out screening at the Seattle International Film Festival.

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Three years ago, the story about how Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tried a new approach to school discipline and saw suspensions drop 85% struck a nerve. It went viral – twice — with more than 700,000 page views. Paper Tigers, a documentary that filmmaker James Redford did about the school — premiered last Thursday night to a sold-out crowd at the Seattle International Film Festival. Hundreds of communities around the country are clamoring for screenings.

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Paper Tigers to premiere at Seattle International Film Festival

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Paper Tigers will  premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) at 7 PM Thursday, May 28, 2015, at the SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle, WA. SIFF is the largest and most highly attended festival in the U.S.

Paper Tigers follows a year in the life of an alternative high school in Walla Walla, WA, that has radically changed its approach to disciplining its students, and in the process has become a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence and disease that affect families. A story about the school was published on this site in 2012: Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline; suspensions drop 85%

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An additional screening will take place at 12:30 PM on Saturday, May 30 at the same location. For ticket information and other details: http://www.siff.net/festival-2015/paper-tigers

The documentary was directed by James Redford. Its executive producer is Karen Pritzker. To view a trailer of the movie, go to PaperTigersMovie.com.

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Paper Tigers trailer…a peek into documentary about Lincoln High School

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Documentary filmmaker James Redford released the trailer for Paper Tigers, a documentary that follows four teens who attend Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. Lincoln was the first high school in the country to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices, which resulted in an 85 percent decline in suspensions and a 40% decline in expulsions after the first year. After four years, suspensions had dropped 90 percent, expulsions dropped to zero, and graduation rates increased five-fold.

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The growing interest in ACEs and trauma-informed practices

ACEStates2013

So much is happening in events, reports, research and news about adverse childhood experiences and trauma informed practices that it’s hard to keep up. But here are a few notable results:

  • According to Dr. Robert Anda, one of the co-founders of the CDC’s ACE Study, 21 states have done or are completing their own ACE surveys.
  • At last month’s National ACEs Summit in Philadelphia, PA, two unifying themes emerged: to be successful in preventing childhood trauma and to stop further traumatizing children and adults who are already traumatized, people have to work across professional silos and systems, and the changes have to occur at the community level. In other words — this ain’t a top-down endeavor. Martha Davis, executive director of the Institute for Safe Families, which hosted the summit, wrote up six interesting short overviews of the presentations. She and Kristin Schubert of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsored the summit, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week.
  • At that same meeting, ISFS released an ACE survey of Philadelphia — the first of a major U.S. city. The results were grim:  37.3% of adults experienced 4 or more ACEs — three times higher than the 12.5% in the CDC’s ACE Study. That works out to 432,100 people. This substantially increases their risk of long-term health effects. But, as to the city’s resilience factors, the results were also hopeful: 85% felt the “neighborhoods in which they grew up in were safe”, 77.5% thought their “neighbors looked out, supported, and trusted each other”, and 92.3% said that “someone made them feel special while growing up”.
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