Education

“We’re seeing more and more trauma out there,” Ben Chandler, President of the Foundation For A Healthy Kentucky, told a room of knowing child advocates, public health professionals and educators.

Trauma can be measured in adverse childhood experiences — difficult events like physical or sexual abuse, neglect, having a family member die or a parent incarcerated, watching parents divorce, or witnessing drug addiction. In Kentucky, 27 percent of children have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. One in seven have experienced three to eight adverse child experiences.

 “These are among the highest rates in the country,” Chandler continued, explaining that ACEs are directly correlated with poor health outcomes in adults.

Six years ago, the Foundation For A Healthy Kentucky granted almost $300,000 for an initiative that set out to address ACEs by training teachers and adults who work with children to recognize and respond to their trauma. The Bounce program is meant to foster resiliency, to help kids “bounce back.” Now, the foundation is celebrating results.

One pilot program of the Bounce initiative trained teachers and staff at three JCPS elementary schools in trauma-informed care. A report on the program released Tuesday shows significant gains in several areas at those schools.

“This project was successful beyond anything we had imagined,” Chandler said.

Teachers and staff self-reported that they felt more capable of recognizing and addressing student trauma. Behavior referrals are down and suspension rates are lower compared to other JCPS schools. Teacher retention is up. More students said they feel like they belong at their school, and have someone to talk to in the building, as reported on JCPS’s annual comprehensive school survey.

Principal Ryan McCoy of Engelhard Elementary says he’s confident the Bounce initiative contributed to those outcomes.

“This is just something that I believe in my heart has had an impact,” McCoy said.

An evaluation prepared by a psychologist, comparing the results at Engelhard to all other JCPS elementary schools and a comparable control school in the district, back up McCoy’s feelings.

The Bounce program initiated on-going training for teachers and staff, as well as childcare providers at the YMCA of Greater Louisville. JCPS is in the process of implementing other trauma-informed training district-wide, but the schools that participated in the Bounce program — Semple, Wheatley and Engelhard elementaries — got a head start. 

“I think this is a great signal for where we want to go as a district around [Superintendent] Pollio’s mission of improving culture and climate in our schools,” JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said.

The Bounce program was led by a coalition that includes psychologists, educators and representatives from the YMCA, the  Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, Norton Healthcare and The Center for Women and Families. The initiative was paid for with the initial grant from the Foundation For A Healthy Kentucky and more than $250,000 in additional local funding.

Based on the success of Bounce, the Foundation For A Healthy Kentucky is now planning to replicate the program in a rural setting, with a $200,000 grant to bring ACE training to Russell County Schools, in south-central Kentucky.

As another offshoot from the Bounce program, Bellarmine University will offer a version of the ACE training as a two-day continuing education course, suitable for daycare providers, healthcare professionals, foster parents and others who work with at-risk children. Anyone in the community can register for the course, which will be offered this fall. 

“This is a profound shift,” said Bellarmine University education professor Corrie Block, describing trauma-informed instruction. “Asking the question ‘What happened to you?’ is a profound shift from ‘What’s wrong with you?’”

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.