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‘Paper Tigers’ shows value of compassion

PABLO — In an effort to enlighten the public on the effects of childhood trauma, Salish Kootenai College and the United Methodist Church each showed the movie “Paper Tigers” this past week.

“Paper Tigers” documents a school in Walla Walla, Washington, that has taken to heart the information gleaned from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study done in San Diego, California, in the 1990s.

The ACE study shows a correlation between the number of childhood traumatic experiences and future involvement in violence both as a victim and a perpetrator, lifelong health issues and limited opportunities. The toxic stress these traumas produce creates a mental “fight or flight” reaction in the brain that dominates and interferes with the brain’s ability to learn. For this reason, then Principal Jim Sporleder at Lincoln Alternative School put together a team of teachers dedicated to building a system of education that took this understanding into account. 

In the film, six students are followed and allowed to film their own experiences. Drug abuse, cerebral palsy, sexual abuse, parental mental health issues, parental neglect, desertion and death, violence committed against them or a family member, are some of the issues students dealt with while attending school.

While childhood trauma has the potential to negatively change the development of a child’s brain, the support of just one adult creates a protective factor, building the resiliency needed to overcome ACEs.

Lincoln School created an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion. When students exhibited signs of stress, teachers intervened and made themselves available for honest conversations where students could discuss problems. Teachers understood and looked beyond students’ outward behaviors and recognized them as signs of stress and reactions to the situations students contend with outside of school. Students’ behaviors were approached with understanding as well as consequences with the goal of growth and success rather than punitive penalties. 

Students at Lincoln stated they felt more like they were part of a family and in an emotionally safe place. 

Positive results using this style of education included an increase in school attendance, significantly fewer suspensions and expulsions, and an increase in resiliency that corresponded with better grades and higher graduation rates.

For more information about resilience and how to build it, go to: www.resiliencetrumpsaces.org. To learn about the movie, “Paper Tigers” go to: acestoohigh.com. More information about ACEs and the ACE study may be accessed at: cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy.

The Nest now owns the film and can loan it out to groups who want to see it (contact us at nestmontana@gmail.com for more information). 
Paper Tigers was sponsored by The Nest, the Flathead Reservation Human Right Coalition, and a grant from the Montana Children’s Trust Fund.

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