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Learning with ACEs: An Educator’s Story

The latest installment in our ACEs Aware Storytelling Series illustrates the life-changing power of trauma-informed practices when implemented in schools. Laguna High School, an alternative high school that worked with the Sonoma County Office of Education to better understand ACEs and their potential impact on learning, has experienced significantly improved outcomes after adding daily trauma-informed practices for its students.

Sonoma County is a district with a wide range of educational environments, giving the Office of Education the unique task of creative problem-solving when it comes to helping their students thrive. At Laguna, the student population is nearly 100 percent below the poverty line, and nearly 50 percent could be categorized as homeless or as unaccompanied minors. 

“Our kids are in a constant state of panic, and our kids come to school dysregulated,” says Principal Allie Green. “When you go to school to be a teacher, they don’t teach you that kids who suffer from significant toxic stress can’t access their education. We knew ACEs are going to impact students’ life outcomes, but we didn’t have the tools in order to figure out what to do with that.”  

Enter Mishale Ballinger, Clinical Counselor at Sonoma County’s Office of Education, who Green contacted to provide support on trauma-informed practices, and to train Laguna staff on how to make their classrooms feel like safe spaces for students. 

Ballinger taught teachers and office staff about ACEs, explained how toxic stress impacts kids, and provided tools to help students to get back inside their bodies. In addition to the use of self-regulation tools, such as restorative circles, and support from multiple marriage family therapists, Green also fostered an open-door policy in the Principal’s Office

“The office represents a place of safety, and love, and compassion,” says Green. “We know the research. We know that having one grown-up that believes in you, one grown-up that tells you ‘You can do it,’ can change the trajectory of a child’s life.” 

Since they began implementing trauma-informed practices three years ago, Laguna has seen its graduation rate rise from 55 percent to 95 percent

“Toxic stress science is a knowledge that has the ability to shift the way that we operate,” says Ballinger. “No one loses if we’re trauma informed. People only gain – hope and healing.

Watch and share the video on the ACEs Aware YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/BT8k4lmAeRY, and learn more about ACEs Aware training at training.acesaware.org.

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