Initiative recognizing student trauma for FHS

An initiative to help students deal with traumatic experiences is taking hold in Knox County Schools, and will be offered to Farragut High School staff members this month.

“It’s just growing and growing,” said Anna Graham, a Bearden High School English teacher who was on the six-member team that initiated trauma-informed training there three years ago.

Today (Thursday, Aug. 22), FHS faculty will be introduced to the same training during their in-service week, FHS principal Dr. John Bartlett said.

“Our first training will be called ACEs,” he explained, adding, “It stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Such training “helps teachers understand how trauma affects students, their brain development and their mental health,

Bartlett said. “Essentially, it is how the student responds to certain stimuli based on past experiences and what does that do to a student in the classroom or wherever they are.”

“So that is the first big bite of the apple that we are going to start talking through,” he added. “There are other follow-on trainings — healthy brain trainings, trauma-informed trainings, where we are basically talking about ‘This is the issue. Now what are we going to do about it in our classroom?’

The question for teachers becomes “‘what do I do about it?’” Bartlett said. “To me, it’s the most impactful training that we have today as educators.”

ACEs and trauma-informed training is not new to Bartlett, who was principal at BHS when it initiated its ACEs training. Bearden and Austin-East were the only high schools in Knox County state-trained for trauma-informed practices last school year, noted Graham, a BHS assistant principal who has since returned to teaching.

While the state started its Building Stronger Brains initiative, based on trauma-informed training, two years ago, BHS had already started the ball rolling with its own in-service trauma informed training during the 2016-2017 school year.

Graham said the team formed after she and a couple of other assistant principals saw a presentation from an elementary school principal at a state assistant principal discipline conference in Murfreesboro. That assistant principal uses findings of an ACEs study, conducted by a California insurance company, to incorporate different practices to address student behavior, grades and attendance in his school.

“It pretty much changed their regular protocols and policies,” Graham said.

She noted the insurance company originally was studying obesity, but there were questions on the survey about child abuse and neglect.

“What they found is that over 44 percent of the respondents of the survey said that they had suffered from child abuse,” Graham said. “These were college-educated, middle-class (respondents), not a population (from which) Americans would expect to have that type of answer.

“Basically it just brings to light the epidemic of childhood trauma in the United States,” she added.

Graham also learned “every year, 3.1 million referrals are made to child protection agencies across the United States — in the U.S. only — involving 6.6 million children every year.

“And, of those 6.6 million children, on average, 700,000 are positively identified by these agencies as definite victims of trauma and abuse,” she added. “So with numbers like that — that no one really talks about — you can imagine what that means for American schools because these students are coming to school, and they are dealing with things that are unimaginable, but we’re asking them — especially middle schoolers and high schoolers — to come and sit in a classroom for eight hours — sit still, behave, pay attention, learn and understand the importance of Algebra II.

“We were blown away by that information we heard (at the conference), and we started, as an administrative team, absorbing as much information as we could about ACEs, what it meant for students, what effects on the brain and how students learn.

As a result, ”We came back to our staff and did professional development training on the information we have learned,” Graham said. “We realized a lot of this information was not discussed in American society, but we wanted to make sure our teachers heard what we had heard.”

Bartlett gave training at BHS his full support, she said.

Then initiative started picking up steam at the state level, and under Gov. (Bill) Haslam, it started Building Stronger Brains.

They started training elementary, middle and high schools (faculty) across the state that applied to be a trauma-informed school, Graham said.

“We had to fill out an application (to take the state training),” she said. “The state initiative meant we got some funding to implement and purchase some things that would be helpful for staff and students.”