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Sumiton Elementary highlights new trauma program.
SUMITON – A pilot initiative at Sumiton Elementary School (SES) to address student mental health issues was spotlighted Tuesday, with state Superintendent of Education Eric G. Mackey in attendance.
Sumiton Elementary has the largest number of students in Walker County enrolled in kindergarten through fourth grade, with 120 students per grade level, plus two pre-K classes. The population, along with socioeconomic and other factors, is the reason the school was selected for a pilot initiative.
Dr. Greg Banner from the University of Alabama held three training sessions for teachers and staff at Sumiton Elementary School on Tuesday. The sessions shared new tools and techniques on how to address the social and emotional wellbeing of students.
Dr. Kristy Wheeler, principal of SES, said, “We are very fortunate to get this grant through the Walker Area Community Foundation.”
“This grant will help us focus on the social and emotional wellness of our students,” she said. “Being a trauma-informed school means that we will take a whole-child approach that is healing centered.”
The goal is to decrease student anxiety in coming to school and increase attendance and academics, according to Wheeler.
“We hope to teach students self-regulation techniques that will benefit them throughout their lives,” she said.
Self-regulation revolves around helping the child understand the difference between the various emotions and then teach them tools to help them address these emotions.
Another benefit of the grant is that Anthony Sellers, who has a master’s in educational psychology, will be spending four days a week at the Sumiton school. He will teach teachers and students about the zones of regulation, which is a concept that helps students understand their emotions and do a better job of regulating their behavior.
A special room at SES contains tools that include a sensory table, an art stand, and other areas that allow hands-on experience for the child to help them through anxiety, anger, sadness, or other emotions. Students who are experiencing issues will spend about 15 minutes in the room.
The time spent in the “zone room” will help students get to a better place and return to class ready to learn.
“If children are sitting in a classroom filled with anxiety, fear, or anger, they’re not ready for academics at that time,” Wheeler said.
Tina Aaron, director of the Walker County Youth Advocacy Program, spearheaded the process to get the grant for the cutting-edge Whole Child Initiative program.
Dr. Hagood, who is the superintendent of Walker County School, was supportive of Aaron’s efforts to have Sumiton Elementary be the pilot for this program, according to Wheeler.
One of the reasons Sumiton Elementary was selected is because many of the children from Sumiton and surrounding communities come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which can be challenging. Another factor that contributes to the emotional wellbeing of children everywhere is the problem of addiction, according to Wheeler.
The idea for the initiative came from multiple fronts. Aaron had conversations with Hagood about ways to address childhood trauma.
When Hagood formed teams to discuss a strategic plan for Walker County Schools, one of the topics included was finding ways to address trauma. During one of the sessions, Wheeler sat next to Paul Kennedy, executive director of the Walker Area Community Foundation (WACF).
It seems that both Wheeler and Kennedy were interested in the trauma that children faced. Wheeler’s interest in this topic was another factor in SES being selected as a pilot program.
Wheeler got emotional when explaining that she learned they’d received the grant for the Whole Child Initiative on Oct. 17, which was the day after Deb Akins Odom passed away unexpectedly at the school.
Odom was over the computer lab at SES. Wheeler decided to convert Odom’s computer lab into the healing center.
“We believed that room needed a new life,” she said. “I know that Ms. Deb would be so happy that we did.”
Sellers will work with classrooms of children as well as individuals who are having issues in the classroom due to behavioral concerns. He will also provide professional development for staff.
“This way, we can immerse our entire school in this idea of the Whole-Child Initiative and the zones of regulation,” she said.
If teachers and other employees can recognize that a child is having an issue early on, they can take a couple of minutes to address the concern before the day begins. This could change the entire day for that child, according to Wheeler.
“Everyone is aware of the mental health crisis,” Aaron said. “We see kids using alternatives to solve mental health issues. They’re turning to drugs, alcohol, running away, and promiscuity.”
There are teens in the area who are homeless and are living from place to place, according to Aaron.
“I had childhood trauma myself,” she said, noting she lived in poverty, and that’s the reason she’s doing the work she does. Aaron said that if someone had seen her and realized what she was going through and intervened, it could have changed the trajectory of her life.
This initiative is designed to help teachers and others understand trauma.
“Everyone will be looking through the same lens,” Aaron said, including the bus driver, lunchroom staff, custodial staff, teachers, and everyone who has contact with that child each day. All of these people should have the same tools to understand trauma and have interventions and strategies to help the children.
“Not all kids that have trauma live in poverty, but most kids that live in poverty have had trauma,” she said.
When asked what had to happen to make this work, Aaron is quick to give credit to God. “I’m not smart enough to figure this stuff out. It was a divine plan,” she said.
Sumiton Elementary was the best fit for this initiative because of its large K-4 student population, Aaron said. This provides an opportunity for a big impact. The other factor was that Wheeler was passionate about finding ways to help children work through trauma.
Another factor that gave the initiative wings is when the WACF funded the project 100 percent. This allowed them to engage an interventionist (Sellers) who has a master’s in educational psychology.
The team realized that some parents could have issues with the word trauma because they think it is associated with some kind of abuse. Aaron points out that the trauma could be related to a death in the family, frequent moving by the family, domestic violence, a deployed military parent, or incarcerated parents.
Rather than deal with resistance to the word trauma, the program has evolved into the Whole Child Initiative with a healing centered environment.
“These experiences change the way the child’s brain works. It changes the way that they learn, and changes their ability to function at school,” Aaron said. “If we can teach them what their emotions are, and how to manage themselves, they can go back into the classroom calmer, ready to learn, and that teacher hasn’t had to lose instruction time.”
The aim of this initiative is not for teachers to do more but to do things differently, according to Aaron.
“Our county has the largest drug population in the State of Alabama, but we want to be number one in this Whole Child Initiative,” she said, “It’s better to put the fence up at the edge of the cliff than to have an ambulance at the bottom.”
The goal is to involve parents and guardians and give them training and tools to help ensure their children get what they need.
The return on investment is unbelievable if you consider changing the way teachers teach,” Aaron said. “You’re not only affecting the current students we have but also every child that the teacher teaches throughout the term that they teach. It’s an immeasurable number.”
The team has thought about how they will measure outcomes from this effort. Quantitative data might be shown in how many times a child goes to the office. Other measures could track whether there is a reduction in both out of school and in-school suspensions, improved attendance, less bullying, or other behavior issues in the classroom. Qualitative data might be teacher observations on how the children are doing in class after the initiative begins as compared to before it began.
Mackey got a first-hand walkthrough of the initiative.
“It is a wonderful pilot program that goes with the crisis point that’s happening all around the state,” Mackey said.
Another thing Mackey sees around the state is that parents sometimes don’t know how to help their children. “The parents get frustrated, the children get frustrated, and the teachers get frustrated, and learning is not going on," he said.
Mackey said that these issues are more acute in this part of the state than in a lot of other places, noting the state is working on getting some money for pilot programs like this. He is glad to see that this area has stepped out front and managed to secure a grant and get a mental health therapist.
He went on to say that they met with the governor’s staff about some more things that can be rolled out in this coming legislative session to help schools like SES.
He said it would take a partnership between education, mental health, Department of Human Resources, and also a collaboration between public and private as well as local communities in or to get all the surround services we need for young people. “This particular program blows me away,” he said.
“It’s not a huge revelation to most folks that mental health needs now is a priority,” Hagood said. “We’ve taken measures to address that.”
The trauma-informed center is a pilot that we hope to expand, according to Hagood.
December 13, 2019
In accordance with the education accountability law, Code of Alabama, Section 16-6B-7, the Walker County Board of Education provides the following information via its website (https://www.walkercountyschools.com/domain/49)
- Exhibits A-I-I through A-I-VIll — Funding and Expenditure Report for Accountability by Fund Source. The content and format of these reports are the same as Exhibits C-II-I through C-II-VIII — Combining Statement of Revenues, Expenditures, and Changes in Fund Balance by Fund Source,
- Exhibits A-II-I through A-II-VII— Funding and Expenditure Report for Accountability by Cost Center. The content and format of these reports are the same as Exhibits through C-III-VIII — Combining Statement of Revenues and Expenditures by Cost Center.
- Exhibits A-III-I through Exhibits A-III-VIII— Funding and Expenditure Report for Accountability by Program. The content and format of these reports are the same as Exhibits C-IV-I through C-IV-VIII — Combining Statement of Revenues and Expenditures by Program.
- Student Achievement
The Student Achievement Report requirement has been met using the student achievement data that was released by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). This information is available at the ALSDE website (www.alsde.edu) under the AL Education Report Card, Supporting Data, Proficiency/Participation – 2018-2019 Math Assessment, Proficiency/Participation – 2018-2019 Reading Assessment, Proficiency/Participation – 2018-
2019 Science Assessment.
- School Safety & Discipline
A copy of the most recent Student Incident Report, which was submitted to the ALSDE in June 2019, is provided.
Due to the cost of printing such large amounts of information, the Financial and School Safety & Discipline, reports are available on the District website. The Student Achievement data is available through the ALSDE portal to which there is a link on our website. Printed copies of the 2018-19 Financial and School Safety & Discipline reports will be made upon a written request to Steven Rowe, coordinator for Prevention and Support Services at the Walker County Board of Education.
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