‘Paper Tigers’ Film: ACE Trauma Can Be Healed

“Resilience practices overcome students’ ACEs in trauma-informed high school, say the data” — Guest Blog by Jane Stevens, Founder of ACEsConnection.com

Paper Tigers Cast Crew Seattle Premier 5-28-15Three 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 [May 28] to a sold-out crowd at the Seattle International Film Festival. Hundreds of communities around the country are clamoring for screenings. [Cast and crew of Paper Tigers after Seattle screening; photo by Jane Stevens]

After four years of implementing the new approach, Lincoln’s results were even more astounding: suspensions dropped 90%, there were no expulsions, and kids grades, test scores and graduation rates surged.

But many educators aren’t convinced. They ask: Can the teachers and staff at Lincoln explain what they did differently? Did it really help the kids who had the most problems – the most adverse experiences? Or is what happened at Lincoln just a fluke? Can it be replicated in other schools?

Last year, Dr. Dario Longhi, a sociology researcher with long experience in measuring the effects of resilience-building practices in communities, set about answering those questions.

The results? Yes. Yes. No. And yes.

In 2010, Jim Sporleder, then-principal of Lincoln High, learned about the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and the neurobiology of toxic stress at a workshop in Spokane, WA. The ACE Study showed a link between 10 types of childhood trauma and the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence…

Here’s what Sporleder learned:

Severe and chronic trauma (such as living with an alcoholic parent, or watching in terror as your mom gets beat up) causes toxic stress in kids. Toxic stress damages kid’s brains. When trauma launches kids into flight, fight or fright mode, they cannot learn. It is physiologically impossible.

They can also act out (fight) or withdraw (flight or fright) in school; they often have trouble trusting adults or getting along with their peers. They start coping with anxiety, depression, anger and frustration by drinking or doing other drugs, having dangerous sex, over-eating, engaging in violence or thrill sports, and even over-achieving.

Sporleder said he realized that he’d been doing “everything wrong” in disciplining kids, and decided to turn Lincoln High into a trauma-informed school.

With the help of Natalie Turner, assistant director of the Washington State University Area Health Education Center in Spokane, WA, Sporleder and his staff implemented three basic changes that essentially shifted their approach to student behavior from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

Click to Read More…


Kathy’s blogs and Guest Blogs explore the journey of recovery from childhood trauma by learning about Adult Attachment Disorder in teens and adults, Adult Attachment Theory, and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

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3 responses to “‘Paper Tigers’ Film: ACE Trauma Can Be Healed

  1. I know only one person who has ever taken thier child to a psychologist and received a diagnoses of attachement disorder. When the child was older she was diagnosed wtih ADHD but the two diagnoses were not seen as connected. Kids with underlying trauma are being diagnosed with ADHD and medicated with stimulants with questionable efficacy.

  2. I wish someone had asked my son ‘What happened to you?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He had a lot of trouble in K-12, even in our middle class area, but the adults just ganged up on him. Racial prejudice is still impacting the lives of minorities, especially black men. Childhood for males is full of conflict with peers as it is, and compounded for minority males by overt bigotry.

    • I hear you and I feel the hurt… I’m behind on the news and just saw this “Requiem on Racism” by Rev. Clementa Pinckney of Mother Emanuel AME Church in SC, done in April. It is sooo moving in case you missed it after the horrendous shooting June 17 of Rev. Pinckney and his flock. When he mentioned Emmanuel, I began to weep. Yes somehow God is with us, no matter what. As Rev. said: “Please silence all electronic devices…If the phone rings, it better be Jesus calling!” 🙂 see: https://vimeo.com/126710749

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