Developing students’ resiliency helps keep schools safer

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

School shootings are one of the greatest tragedies unique to our time. Throughout most of humanity’s several millennia of existence, they did not exist. Today, they happen with such frequency we are all becoming numb.

Law enforcement and first responders are continually improving their abilities to respond once an incident occurs, hopefully stopping murderous attackers before they can kill many more and getting victims treatment faster so more of them can survive.

But no matter how fast they respond, police and EMS will always be a treatment for a symptom, not a cure for the disease.

As badly as we need our first responders to protect us when a tragedy strikes, we also need people responding to the mental health needs of our students, perhaps preventing a tragedy from ever striking in the first place.

One place in Kentucky where good work is being done on this front is in Jefferson County Schools. The “Bounce” initiative there wasn’t specifically designed with preventing school shootings in mind, but its impressive benefits to students’ wellbeing, engagement and interaction with staff who can help them should make such a tragedy less likely regardless.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky provided a nearly $300,000 grant to help implement the program, which attempted to help students develop “resilience” and better cope with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). ACEs include things such as abuse, neglect, having a parent in jail and more.

“ACEs can cause toxic stress, generate risky behaviors and lead to chronic illness in adulthood and early death,” according to the foundation. “… Under the grant program, Bounce provided training for teachers, counselors, school staff and parents, as well as classroom lessons and parent engagement activities. The training is built around an approach of, ‘What happened to you?’ instead of, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ when adults are working with children who’ve experienced ACEs.”

After three years in two elementary schools, the program resulted in:

• a 56-point improvement in the percentage of staff who felt equipped to work with kids who have experienced ACEs;

• a substantial decrease in the number of students who needed numerous referrals for service;

• across-the-board improvements in every category of “school climate surveys;”

• almost double the number of parent conferences;

• a parent-teacher association of 213 members when there had been zero; and

• an improved teacher retention rate.

The program is now expanding to Russell County Schools and the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.

“Our goal is to create a blueprint for successfully addressing ACEs that coalitions across Kentucky can use to secure funding from other sources to implement in their own school districts and communities,” according to Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation.

We don’t know why school shootings began or why they continue to happen today, but we do know that troubled individuals in need of mental health care are the ones who decide to commit mass murder. We also know that we’ll never be able to just wipe away all the bad experiences that lead to trauma and troubled thoughts.

But by helping develop resiliency, programs like Bounce are helping kids appropriately process bad things. And Bounce is helping make sure adults know when and how to help the kids in their care. As a result, students are happier, healthier and more ready to learn. They’re also less likely to reach a point of such desperation that bringing a gun to school seems like a good idea.

We hope positive programs like Bounce continue to spread across the commonwealth and the nation; we think they are our best chance for bringing a quicker close to the enormously sad school-shooting chapter of human history.