How Schools Can Help Heal the Effects of Trauma

July 21, 2016

Children who grow up in volatile environments are plagued by toxic stress, which can affect how they react and behave in school. Increasingly, new science and interventions are showing schools and communities ways to help these students heal .

A growing body of research has sought to document Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and explain their connection with negative outcomes later in life such as obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression. As part of its mission to confront society’s hidden challenges, KPJR Films produced two documentaries to showcase trauma-sensitive education and to explain the science behind the very real effects of toxic stress. KPJR Films asked The Hatcher Group to help raise awareness about the films, the effects of ACEs and the ways trauma-sensitive education can make a difference in a child’s life.

Paper Tigers follows six students at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington, using cinema verite and first-person diary cams. The film highlights the school’s trauma-sensitive approach, which led to a 95 percent reduction in suspensions, 75 percent fewer fights and 60 percent fewer office referrals. The film has been screened in communities across the nation and at the recent White House Forum on Youth Violence Prevention. It will be broadcast August 31 on

Resilience, scheduled for release in November, explains the science behind toxic stress, why it is so hard for some young people to control their behavior in school, and how schools and communities can move beyond discipline to address the root causes of misbehavior.

This recent Atlantic article by director James Redford and producer Karen Pritzker builds on the work of Lincoln High to tell a story of hope and success made possible by smart, caring and supportive school-led interventions. The article received nearly 25,000 Facebook likes and reached more than 2 million Twitter accounts.

“Teachers like to tell students that if they work hard they will succeed—that it is in their control to pay attention, do their homework, and perform well in class,” Jim Sporleder, former Lincoln High principal, tells Redford and Pritzker in the article. “But those assumptions don’t work for children growing up in high-stress environments, such as those living in poverty.”

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