Think of it as a well-school checkup.
On Tuesday morning at Bemiss Elementary School, educators and health professionals spoke enthusiastically about something called Resilience in School Environments, or RISE.
A collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and the Spokane and West Valley school districts, the RISE program is expected to lift up teachers and administrators and give them tools to cope with all the challenges of the modern student.
The challenges are many, as are the students – thousands of them in Spokane scarred by adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.
They include physical, emotional and sexual abuse; emotional and physical neglect; living with a parent who’s an alcoholic or addicted to other drugs; witnessing the abuse of a mother; a family member in prison or diagnosed with mental illness; and a loss of a parent through divorce or abandonment.
A high ACE score is the second-highest predictor of academic failure, after a child being in special education classes.
According to national studies, more than 40% of children have dealt with at least one adverse childhood experience.
That can influence their overall development, impact their ability to learn and put them at increased risk for obesity and other chronic health conditions.
Children bring those problems into the classroom, where many teachers are ill-equipped to cope.
“That’s what piqued my interest,” said Rachel Sherwood, the principal at Bemiss, where eight of every nine children are on free or reduced-price meals and standardized test scores average the 20th percentile statewide.
Developed as part of Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools initiative, RISE includes an on-the-ground regional coordinator dedicated to working with school staff, teachers, districts and the community to better understand the underlying factors of stress in schools and foster more positive school environments.
According to Dr. Cicely White, a pediatrician at Kaiser, “Just as I underscore the importance of self-care for the parents of the children I care for, it’s important that schools prioritize well-being for school teachers, staff and administrators to be most effective in helping children learn and succeed.”
The program also recognizes that not all school environments are the same.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all program,” said Jill Patrode, Thriving Schools program director for Kaiser Permanente in Washington. “We look to schools to determine the areas they want to strengthen, then help them access the tools and resources we know can make a difference.”
The program is voluntary, but participating districts and schools will have access to customizable guidance and technical assistance along with online assessments.
The program also includes a virtual training center, professional development and consultations with social-emotional health experts.
“I want our staff to see what that looks like: How do you take care of yourself, how do you stay calm in the chaos, and how do teachers build their skills in responding to different situations?” Sherwood said.
“Those situations are getting worse,” Sherwood added.
Ideally, the RISE program will lead to a healthier environment.
“Kids are going to be great if the teachers are great and being taken care of,” Sherwood said.
“It’s one more way to achieve our goal to increase each student’s achievement at every level, in every classroom,” said Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger. “It strengthens our commitment to prepare students to follow any pathway they desire after graduation.”
So far, several Spokane principals have expressed interest in the program, according to Brian Coddington, director of communications and public relations for SPS.
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