One caring adult can break the cycle of adversity in a young person’s life.
That was the central theme of the documentary film, “Paper Tigers,” shown Monday night at the NYA Hall in Ravenswood. The free screening, which took place before a packed house, included informational booths set up by numerous area service providers.
The event, which was organized by Dee Scritchfield, city councilwoman and member of the local We Care initiative, also included a discussion on how to help troubled youth, which is the central idea behind the film. Scritchfield wrote a grant proposal that resulted in $750 in funding to show the film.
The documentary chronicles a year in the life of students at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, an alternative education school that focuses on a trauma-centered approach to helping struggling youth.
Considered the last chance before dropping out, many students come to Lincoln with a history of behavioral problems, truancy, and substance abuse.
In 2010, Jim Sporleder, the principal, learned about the science of what a rough childhood does to a developing brain. He determined that “stressed brains can’t learn.” He became convinced that traditional punishments like suspension were only exacerbating the problems of students.
Eventually, Sporleder began advocating advancements made by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which shows that stressful events during childhood massively increase the risk of problems in adulthood.
“The behavior isn’t the kid. The behavior is a symptom of what’s going on in their life,” science teacher Erik Gordon says at one point in the film.
Using a trauma-sensitive approach to education, Lincoln High School was able to drastically improve the lives of students, resulting in increased graduation rates, increased numbers of college-bound students, and a reduction in behavioral problems.
Jackson County Schools Superintendent Blaine Hess
said the film effectively illustrated the plight of a growing population of students and highlighted a great approach to addressing the problem. While Jackson County doesn’t have as many troubled students as shown in the film, there are many who come from homes affected by stress, particularly as a result of West Virginia’s ever-increasing opioid problem.
“There is a growing population of students who have things in their life that make success in school difficult,” he said. “We have to look at how we’re going to react to this. It’s a difficult situation for us, as educators, to deal with. But, as this film illustrates, all it takes is one person to make a difference in a student’s life, and many times that person is a teacher.”
Ravenswood Mayor Josh Miller said he enjoyed the film and felt it was an eye-opening documentary. It should be noted that Miller himself is a documentary producer on “Made in the USA: The 30 Day Journey,” a movie in which he documented the struggles US manufacturers.
“I thought ‘Paper Tigers’ was an eye-opening documentary. My takeaway from it as a parent was what we do and how we act around our children matters. Sometimes we get caught up in daily life and we forget that our children are always watching us – our demeanor and how we react to stress,” Miller said.
Miller said he was encouraged by the success of Lincoln’s approach.
“People are trying alternative methods of education and the way they handle discipline in the school system. It seems like they had some success there. We always have to experiment. Not everyone grows up in the same environment. And we have to understand that not everybody absorbs information the same. It provides some hope for the future that kids who’ve lived in a rough environment or had things happen in their lives, they can overcome it.”