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December 2014 Vol. 22 No. 3 Focus on Behavioral Health in Schools

Breaking the cycle

Jahzaire Sutton, 13, is applying to the Science Leadership Academy for high school. He went for his interview in November with his mother, Angela Sutton, and brought along a Styrofoam model of a cell that he had made. The two have talked about the emotional toll of living in deep poverty in Philadelphia.


Bill Hangley, Jr.

It’s interview day for prospective students at the Science Leadership Academy, and Angela Sutton is just another happy mother.

Sitting with other parents in the back of the room, her hair coiled in gleaming braids, she’s telling about the day her 7-year-old tried to order $500 worth of science books online.

“It was biology, anatomy, it was a chemistry book in there – I couldn’t believe it,” she tells the parents nearby. “He said, ‘Mom, I saved you so much money, they were half off!’”

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Mastery moves toward understanding trauma


Connie Langland

At the Mastery Thomas elementary campus in South Philadelphia, children sit in a circle in their 1st-grade classroom to talk about using “restaurant voices.”

“You can whisper,” says Dana.

“No screaming,” Maurice adds.

Please, can I have a Coca-Cola?” Liz suggests.

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Addressing childhood trauma in schools: Expert views


Paul Jablow

William Hite had not even started his first day as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia in August 2012 when he called for changes in climate in the system’s classrooms and corridors.

At a principals' summit that month, Hite said, “We can't arrest our way to higher student achievement. … We can't suspend our way to higher student achievement. We can't arrest or suspend our way to safer schools.

“Sometimes that angry look, that stare, that inappropriate response, is a cry for help more so than anything else.”

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Researcher delves into adverse childhood experiences


Paul Jablow

Since the spring of 2013, Roy Wade has seen the impact of trauma on urban youth and adults in low-income neighborhoods from three vantage points.

One is from his Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia research office 13 floors above Market Street.

A second is from his pediatrics office in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia.

And the third is from his travels in the neighborhoods to such places as boys’ and girls’ clubs, YMCAs, community health centers, homeless shelters, primary care sites and behavioral health organizations.

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Philadelphia’s shift in discipline policy


Dan Hardy

In the wake of the catastrophic Columbine school shooting in 1999, many school district leaders, politicians, and police summed up their response to school violence with two words: zero tolerance.

Infractions that once might have prompted a discussion of motive and intention instead often led to immediate, automatic suspensions, expulsions, and calls to police.

From 2002 to 2011 in Philadelphia, that view held the upper hand; both Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman favored a zero-tolerance approach to school discipline.

In 2012, however, dissatisfaction with the results led to a tectonic shift in policy.

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Trauma courses train teachers, other staff on behavioral health issues


Paul Jablow

Michele Messer, a counselor at John Moffet School, said the course she was taking on trauma training had been “game changing,“ helping her gain a new perspective on her students.

“It helps me see where they are in time and space,” she said.

Marsha Weiford, a counselor at Edward Gideon and Gen. George G. Meade schools said that in addition to being useful in the schools, “It helps me educate the parents.”

Cynthia Moore, a counselor at Thomas G. Morton School, said simply that “It gives you the tools you need to get back in the trenches every day.”

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