U-46 teachers to address students' stress levels

Posted11/24/2015 5:40 AM

The stresses students face in school often goes beyond the pressures of meeting academic expectations, experts say.

Experts say brains of children who live in a constant state of fight or flight because of problems caused by poverty, living conditions, violence or substance abuse in the home change, which affects learning.


That's the subject of a 90-minute documentary, "Paper Tigers," which will be aired 9 a.m. Wednesday at Larkin High School, 1475 Larkin Ave, Elgin. It will be followed by a panel discussion among local educators, doctors and community members on how to help alleviate such stresses and improve students' lives.

Nearly 100 schools, colleges, universities and communities nationwide are screening "Paper Tigers" this month.

More than 300 members of the Elgin Teachers Association, Elgin Area School District U-46 administrators and community members are expected to gather to discuss the effects of "toxic" stress on students, said Kathryn Castle, association spokeswoman.

"Paper Tigers" delves into the lives of students at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, an alternative school that specializes in educating traumatized youths. The film examines "Trauma Informed Communities" -- a movement that has shown promise in helping youths struggling with adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and chronic "toxic" stress. Addressing these issues helps improve grades and graduation rates, experts say.

Children who score high on ACEs testing are more likely to experience higher rates of addiction, health problems and learning issues, which can lead to early disease, death or prison as adults, according to experts.

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The teachers association, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics are urging schools to partner with their communities to create trauma-informed learning environments, Castle said.

"We're working with pediatricians," Castle said. "We're going to continue to pursue more in-depth conversations. We're diving into this both feet."

John Heiderscheidt, U-46 director of safety and culture, said trauma-informed care is now part of the district's annual safety training.

The goal is looking deeper into what triggers students' behavioral outbursts and causes a situation to escalate, he said.

"This is such great work that they are moving forward in creating more awareness and educational opportunities for school and staff, and a paradigm shift from 'what's wrong with that kid' to 'what's happening in that kid's life,'" Heiderscheidt said.

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