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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Hope, connection and chaos

Hechinger’s Lillian Mongeau looks at a Washington state high school’s attempt to provide social and academic support for failing students. Eleven ninth- and 10th-graders signed up for Hope Academy, which meets for several class periods a day. They also take regular classes.

Teacher Katie Ward talks to a student about his progress. Photo: Meryl Schenker/Hechinger Report

“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,” writes Mongeau.

Hope Academy is an experiment in “trauma-informed education,” which “calls for muted reactions to misbehavior, direct instruction on interpersonal skills, and strong teacher-student relationships.

“Every Hope student had at least four Adverse Childhood Experiences.

None of them lived with two married parents. Many struggled with substance abuse or had caretakers who did. Several have been in the juvenile justice system or had parents who’d been in jail. One had a brother who was getting cancer treatments for a late stage tumor. Another had recently lost his grandfather and lived with a relative he felt didn’t like him. A third had fought with a roommate, a friend of his older brother, and the police had been called. A few were never sure where their next meal was coming from.

In the early months, students said they liked their teachers. However, “teachers were struggling,” writes Mongeau.

There was no curriculum and few rules. Students worked “at their own pace,” which meant they rarely worked. Every day felt like barely contained chaos.

By March, with a new teacher, the program was more organized and calmer, she writes. At the end of the year, “the Hope kids had fewer suspensions, attended more days of school, and earned more credits than they had the year before.”

One student made the basketball team, “learned to deal with frustration” and finished the year only a half-credit behind. But another dropped out when he turned 16.

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