I got a chance to watch a screening of the new educational documentary, Paper Tigers, which explores a successful reform initiative at an alternative school in Walla Walla, Washington. The approach uses research in developmental science surrounding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on behavior and learning. The school’s remarkable effort is heartwarming and inspiring. Through their work, they have achieved measurable improvements in behavior and academic achievement. They are turning lives around.
In particular, I was impressed with three aspects of the video.
Impact of Toxic Stress on Behavior and Learning
Students under extreme stress can’t learn. If you’ve got a kid who is hungry, who has an awful home situation, or is under other stresses, it’s extraordinarily difficult for her to learn something. Yet educational institutions so often try to solve societal problems with educational solutions: more math, remediation, personalized learning experiences, whatever. Pouring more education into a kid who isn’t ready to learn is like pouring oil into a car that has a hole in its oil pan. Before a kid can learn, they have to achieve some sort of inner stability.
This, more than anything, is what Lincoln Alternative High School, the school featured in the film, gets right. They put in place a psychological support system that teaches kids what Adverse Childhood Experiences are, and more importantly, how they can overcome them. It gives kids the tools they need to get their non-academic side functioning at a level where they can start to learn.
Caring, Effective Teachers are the Heart of Learning
The teachers in the film are extraordinary: smart, hard-working, caring, and persistent. Without their investment, the support model of the film would have failed. Even more, overcoming ACEs stresses the need for kids to have a positive relationship with a caring adult role model. The teachers in Paper Tigers step up big time here. It’s hard not to hold out the greatest respect for the work the teachers do at Lincoln. Kudos!
Accessible Health Care for Students
Lincoln has a health care clinic right next door. I didn’t catch how fees are handled for this, but I love the fact that the school came up with a creative societal solution to help kids who weren’t accessing health care through traditional means.
Random Half Thoughts
• The film shows little of the academic side of Lincoln High School. What does show up seems basic: teacher-driven classes, plays, and some art experiences. I’d love to see what a personalized learning approach could do to ramp up achievement more.
• Alternative learning programs should have a “Get Fit to Learn” program/initiation that kids take before they are placed in academic classrooms. Kids would stay in the program until they’ve achieved a certain level of stability and curiosity. ACEs seems like a perfect element to be incorporated into this.