The violence this year has at times seemed pervasive, but just breaking the cycle won’t fix the problem. Instead, those now on the front line at Metro Nashville Public Schools are adapting to completely new ways of thinking when it comes to young people and how they cope.
Since the start of the year, nearly 20 students have disappeared from Metro Nashville classrooms due to the ongoing spike in youth violence. At Fall Hamilton Elementary School, they are trying to find new ways to make the community and their school safer.
“We’re front lines people now,” says Mathew Portell, the principal at Fall Hamilton.
Every classroom in the school now has a de-escalation space were students can go to calm down when they’re faced with a stressful situation. So many students here are facing Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE’s that they have decided to start teaching kids how to manage their feelings when faced with difficult situations both at home and at school.
“By suspending kids from school, by pushing them out of the building when they do something wrong, that isn’t sending a message that we care about them,” Portell adds.
Through a grant, Fall Hamilton is now the first school in the district to have a full-time Trauma Informed Practitioner working with students each day.
“If you’re in an environment where something traumatic is constantly happening, your brain becomes conditioned to that, so you’re always on the alert,” says Madisien Steele, the school’s Trauma Informed Practioner.
Every day Madisien meets with students, many of whom have lost loved ones to this year’s violence. Her goal is to reverse the effects ACE’s are having on students brain development. The goals here are long term. She’s teaching her kids how to better handle their emotions in hopes it will translate to safer, less violent communities down the road.
“We have one student who has had multiple family members who have been murdered. So we’re trying to foster the resilience in these kids and let them know there is still light and you can still make it and flourish and be proud and a beautiful example to other kids with similar experiences,” she adds.