Trauma-informed education is spreading from alternative high schools to comprehensive ones, and it’s not always an easy fit.
SEQUIM — Brandan started it. He chucked an orange at Mason, who grabbed it and threw it back across the classroom.
Zak, who’d been in a funk, started laughing. So did the girls, Dustin and Sierra, who’d been doing schoolwork. Jordan and Brayden, who’d been watching BMX bike videos on their phones, started laughing too.
Then the weirdest thing happened. The adult in this high-school classroom, teacher Bridget Shingleton, did not start shouting.
“That’s the nature of this job — one minute you’re talking to a real person, then they’re chucking oranges at each other,” Shingleton said later.
This is Hope Academy, an alternative program inside Sequim Senior High School, which sits in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. The goal is to offer an alternative for ninth- and 10th-graders who struggle in standard classrooms.
Zak, a philosophical sophomore, put it this way: “I have a hard time staying focused and taking orders from people and I have a high temper.” He said he inherited the temper from his father. In a way, he’s right.
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In the late 1990s, neuroscientists began to realize that chronic bad behavior is rarely a personal failing of incorrigible youth, but often the result of negative childhood experiences on a developing brain. Researchers say traumatized young people can have difficulty concentrating, struggle to contain anger, and find it hard to connect with and trust others, among other symptoms.
There’s emerging evidence such effects can be reversed. And teachers across the country are trying to do just that, using a pedagogical theory known as trauma-informed education, which calls for muted reactions to misbehavior, direct instruction on interpersonal skills, and strong teacher-student relationships.
The theory has gained traction among alternative schools, and now mainstream educators are beginning to see its value.
A great cause with limited funding
Sequim High enrolls 950 kids, 86 percent of whom graduate on time. It would be easy for educators in…