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"When Young People Are Able to Process Their Emotions They Have More Time for Learning" - Principal Sporleder

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Since our last article about Lincoln High we have been in regular contact with the principal, Jim Sporleder. Jim is a pioneer. He didn't set out to shake up the system, but he has. A few weeks ago Jim told us that a video had been shot about the school and the health center adjacent to it. We watched it and within the first minute, our jaws dropped. Before you click on the link to the film below, give us a few minutes to share some background details from the filmmaker herself.

Filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg of Tensegrity Productions, captured the history of these students through honest confessions about their childhood experiences with drugs, death, abandonment, depression and anger. Many films about such topics focus upon the powerlessness of youth in these situations, pulling upon our heartstrings, leaving us wondering. This is one of the critical points where Koenigsberg's film stands out. This is a story of empowerment. This is a story of how kids in even the worst of situations can still turn their lives around, if we as the adults can make emotional safety a part of a school's culture. The students featured in the video talk about their lives and admit that before attending Lincoln High School and utilizing The Health Center at Lincoln, they had not discussed their past, which for many of them has been and continues to be traumatizing.

According to a survey the students take every year, 60 percent of students at Lincoln High have lived with substance abuses, 60 percent of the students feel abandoned by a parent, 53 percent of the students have contemplated suicide and 80 percent have experienced sustained depression as a result. Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it? But at Lincoln High, the students are overcoming their obstacles in ways you can't imagine. Both the staff at the school and at the health center, in addition to teaching, have also dedicated time and energy to establishing a safe and caring atmosphere for their students. The video features not only the care that the staff has for its students, but also the respect and gratitude the students have for their teachers, health providers and counselors.

The students in the film have experienced tremendous stress and adversity, yet they have been moved by an approach that Sporleder and his staff have initiated, based on concepts emerging from the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, and research on children's brains. Washington State University's Area Health Education Center, whose faculty trained Sporleder and his staff, developed an approach to education that addresses how complex trauma and adverse childhood experiences prevent children from learning. In a nutshell, toxic stress damages kids' brains. When trauma launches kids into flight, fight or fright mode, they cannot learn.

Sporleder and his staff learned two basic rules: take nothing a raging kid says personally, and don't mirror the kid's behavior. And they developed a system that replaces punishment, which they believe doesn't work, with a system to give kids tools so that they can learn how to recognize their reaction to stress and make better choices. More information about ACE concepts can be found on the ACEsTooHigh news site.

With this understanding, a culture of care and compassion has emerged amongst the staff at Lincoln High. The results have been dramatic: increased graduation rates, reduction of suspension days, and most importantly, a school where students believe they can excel in the face of adversity that many children will never face. Watch just one minute of this video and you will see why.

Filmmaker Sarah Koenigsberg, explains that she "let the students describe in brutal honesty what they've experienced, because we need to understand the harsh reality of their past to truly appreciate how profound their current success is." The overall mission of this video is bigger than the extraordinary changes that have gone on at Lincoln. It is also to spread awareness about the fact that kids across the nation need encouragement and compassion in order to live a healthy life regardless of what has happened in their past. <a href="http://vimeo.com/37975761" target="_hplink">Click here</a> to see how the extraordinary changes in the school are brought to life by the filmmaker