Pete Hall believes there is nothing more powerful than a “made up mind.” He challenged a room full of 230 educators, asking them to question the way they perceive students they work with every day. How do they make up their minds?

“If we believe that our kids come from poverty, or speak a different language, or have these terrible experiences going on in their lives — then that’s going to limit what they are capable of doing. Well then guess what’s going to happen?” He asked.

“If we believe our kids are incredible, they’re amazing, they’ve got limitless potential — it’s our job to draw that out of them and provide that environment in which they can flourish. Then guess what’s going to happen?”

On Thursday, Hall led a day-long summit at the Running Y Ranch Resort about how educators can better understand their struggling students through the lens of ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences.

The summit, titled “Trauma is a Word, not a Sentence,” was put on by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Klamath County School District. The 230 attendees came from all over southern Oregon and included teachers, administrators, school counselors, bus drivers and partner organizations.

Hall is a co-author of the book, “Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a TraumaSensitive Classroom,” along with Kristin Van Marter Souers. They have given trainings and talks about how traumatic experiences affect children’s ability to learn and how educators teach.

ACEs

Rather than focusing on how students “should” act or achieve in school, Hall advised educators to focus on those students’ backgrounds: the things going on at home or in their past that color the way those children see the world.

His talk was based on a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which studied adults and found Adverse Childhood Experiences in childhood caused a higher likelihood problems later in life.
Those problems range from behavior — smoking, alcoholism, drug use — to medial issues — obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

ACEs fall under three categories: abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.

“Just think about how being abused as a kid would lead to things like having diabetes as a grown-up,” Hall said. “It’s an amazing idea to think how these can adversely affect your health decades later.”

While the RWJF study looked at adults reflecting back on their childhood, a later study looked at children and what they face currently. There, Hall said, they found children with ACEs had a higher likely hood for problems with in school with attendance, behavior and course work. He called it the triple-whammy.

“We know kids with multiple traumatic experiences struggle dramatically with all three,” Hall said. “Their attendance, their behavior, their course work.”

Compared to a child with zero ACEs, a child with three or more ACEs is:

Almost five times more likely to struggle with attendance;
Six times more likely to have behavior concerns;
Three times more likely to fail a course or repeat a course;
Four times as likely to have health issues as a child.

“Not surprising,” Hall said. “When things are going haywire at home, you’re less likely to say, ‘I’m going to go to school.’”

Local impact

Educators from the Klamath Basin saw a direct correlation between what Hall was addressing and what they see in classrooms and schools.

“Those of us who work with alternative kids and kids in trauma, it totally makes sense,” said Tonie Kellom, director of the Klamath Learning Center in the Klamath Falls City Schools district.

“A lot of times in those trauma households, they don’t have a place to do their homework. Their head is so full of trauma, they can’t possibly digest what was learned in class.”

“Because we are a community that has a high level of poverty, many of our kids are impacted,” said Dr. Sara Johnson, Klamath County School District director of assessment, equity and school improvement. “I can think of many kids I work with every day, as well as many adults I work with every day.”