Speaker talks trauma in schools

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Jim Sporleder, a national speaker on trauma informed schools, speaks to Upshur County Schools personnel Friday.

TENNERTON — Seeking to help personnel relate to students who have experienced some form of trauma in their young lives, Upshur County Schools brought in a national speaker for training.

Jim Sporleder, a retired principal from Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, spoke during an all-day training at B-UHS Friday.

Dr. Tammy Samples, Upshur County Board of Education president, said, “Catching Kids Before They Fall is a program that looks at the trauma students have experienced before they even make it to our program and gives teachers a way to interact with those students so we can help them where they are.

“The students we see in today’s school are much different than they were previously,” she said. “The opioid epidemic, dysfunctional families and those type of things impact students’ ability to learn. We have to get beyond that before we can actually help them achieve academically.”

“We’re hopeful that the strategies they use help their students be successful in the classroom. If we address the needs they have, then we can move forward in the academic realm.”

The training was intended for both professional and service personnel as Upshur County Schools takes the first steps towards becoming a trauma-informed school district.

“We are not just training teachers, we are also training service personnel which includes bus drivers, cooks, aides, custodians,” Samples said. “All of our employees are being trained in this program because they all interact with students during the day.”

Outside agencies and leaders from surrounding counties were also invited to the training.

“We wanted everyone to have an opportunity to see this and see if it’s something they might want to do in their counties because this is a problem that all West Virginia students are having,” Samples said. “We invited people hoping they will start these programs in their counties.”

Sporleder shared his journey in education and how he requested to be moved to Lincoln High School (previously known as Paine Alternative High School) where he began a movement to make students and staff feel more safe and changed the overall culture at the school.

He said he was glad to be able to share in Upshur County.

“They have started a journey that is so exciting so I see my role here today as really supporting them with that journey and becoming a trauma-responsive school. What I heard today was so powerful. I heard it coming from the leadership and the superintendent saying this is a direction we need to be going. You have the leadership team seeing this is the way we should go. We know the best practice is a trauma responsive approach for all kids. A trauma responsive approach really reflects on a caring adult relationship with as many kids as you possibly can have.”

While Sporleder began implementing changes at Lincoln immediately, it was a training he attended in his third year as principal at the school where he first learned about trauma responsive and trauma-informed schools.

“It transformed us to a level that we could not have predicted,” he said. “Our kids were doing amazing things. We became a school of choice. Years earlier, it was a one-way destination. We just saw a lot of students who found skills and talents they didn’t know they had. We were able to help nurture that and watch them launch themselves.

“For my own transformation, it happened where I heard a speaker and he hit my heart and it caused my change,” he said. “All I can hope for when I come in for a day and out is hopefully I have hit some hearts to create some change. Hopefully, I am giving them enough information to help them through that transition to change from a traditional mindset to a trauma-responsive mindset.”

In the afternoon session, Sporleder planned to get into how to implement a trauma-responsive culture.

“I’m going to demonstrate it, give examples and walk them through a serious disciplinary situation I had,” he said. “I will walk them through the steps which will show that I had high expectations and yet that student and I developed a very special relationship in the midst of a serious discipline issue.”

Under Sporleder, Lincoln High School became a trauma informed school and he later retired in 2014.

“I’m just excited with the journey,” he said. “I travel the country and when you have leaders standing up and saying this is a direction we are going, to me I think that is the most powerful message of today. It is best practice for all kids and it brings hope and healing to those who feel hopeless.”

Superintendent Dr. Sara Stankus doesn’t intend for Friday’s training to be the end.

The school system plans to bring Sporleder and his daughter back at the beginning of the school year for a day of sessions on related topics from how to build relationships with students to how to engage students in activities to healthy living.

The school system is seeing students who are impacted in different ways because of adverse childhood experiences, according to Stankus.

“So often these children are not ready to learn so we find building relationships and improving their social and emotional well-being will have an impact on the academic achievements,” she said.

Friday’s presentation was sponsored by Aaron’s, Central Supply, McDonald’s, Project Aware, Sen. Bill Hamilton, Sheetz, Speedway, Subway, Wendling’s, Wendy’s and Weyerhaeuser.