Just as a house built on a shattered foundation won’t stand straight, mounting research points toward a child’s earliest years as setting a pattern that will last their whole life.
“What happens early in your life has really big and dramatic impact on the later parts of your life,” said Alex Newton, the counselor at Glacier Valley Elementary School – Sít’ Eetí Shaanáx. “All development for kids starts with their early caregiver experience.”
Newton and GVE principal Lucy Potter spoke at the JAMHI Health and Wellness building on Tuesday night as the most recent part of the Inside Passages Mental Health Speakers Series.
GVE has been part of a program with Washington State University to implement the CLEAR framework: Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience. CLEAR is meant to partner schools with consultants who help the school implement trauma-informed practices to help students who come from backgrounds that may have many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“We know resilience exists. We know kids have it in them,” Newton said. “But it is a journey and we are on that journey.”
GVE, along with Harborview Elementary, and for a time, Riverbend Elementary, have been working with consultants from CLEAR to develop practices to help children who come from adverse backgrounds gain the inter- and intrapersonal skills to help them live fulfilling and balanced lives.
“The point of the third year is to build capacity in the people that are there to continue the work,” Potter said. “I think the hope is that even though CLEAR is leaving, is that we’re building enough capacity in the school district to continue trauma informed teaching practices.”
Potter said the hope is that there’s been enough time for the best-practices arrive at to have taken root, so that with the departure of the consultants from CLEAR at the conclusion of the three-year program, which began in 2017 and will run to the end of this school year, the faculty at GVE and other schools can carry on with their restorative style of teaching.
The program was funded jointly by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Alaska Children’s Trust, the Alaska Community Foundation and the Juneau School District.
ACEs are identified by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as a huge indicator of future health problems, including chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death. Adverse experiences can include abuse and family and household challenges, such as acrimonious divorces, an incarcerated parent and emotional or physical neglect, Newton said.
“It’s uncommon to have more than two to three kids in the classroom whose parents are still married,” Newton said. “No two people who experience trauma ever look the same. It’s a global understanding that these could lead to a student struggling.”
Best practices at GVE include being aware of what kids are going through, giving them time and space to articulate their feelings, and finding ways to help them express what they need to convey, Potter said. With the best practices in place, teachers can help students to overcome false starts in dealing with others and themselves.
“We also try to model healthy relationships with colleagues,” Potter said. “A lot of kids come into our school and they don’t really know what that looks like.”
With the end of the three year-program, it’ll be up to GVE’s faculty to carry on with the best practices they’ve put in place. But signs are already promising, with other teachers saying that students retain some of the methods learned at GVE as they enter middle school, teaching counselors there what they’ve learned.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.