Phoenix school helping students with traumatic childhood experiences

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and his wife have spoke out about wanting to make Arizona a more "trauma-informed" state, meaning finding ways to deal with traumatic childhood experiences.

There is a school in Arizona that is already doing that, and they call it "trauma-informed teachings".

At Holiday Park Elementary School, students and teachers used to struggle with outside stresses that impact grades and learning in the classrooms. The principal said she used to get calls every day about kids acting out, and her staff turnover rate was 50% at one point, so she had to do something.

"I was dealing with stresses with my brother and one of my friends," said one student.

"They have a lot of emotions, and they're not always necessarily aware of how to handle those emotions," said Allison Gilbert, Healthy Kids & Family Specialist at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

"Sometimes, classrooms where there were children not able to focus on learning and perhaps running out of the classroom, or tearing up the classroom, even being frozen and not learning," said Rebecca Leimkuehler, Principal of Holiday Park Elementary.

With the support of Phoenix Children's Hospital, Leimkuehler says she worked to implement trauma informed methods at her school.

"We have the Kohl's Mindful Me program at Phoenix Children's Hospital," said Gilbert. "We focus on bringing education to schools and educators around yoga, mindfulness and trauma-informed care."

A different type of discipline. No nagging or talking down to the kids. When kids act out, the teacher rings the bell and the lights go out.

"I was failing almost everything last year, but then, I started thinking about myself and the situation that I was in," said 5th grader Ashley Vega. "I started listening more. Asking questions more. Thinking about mindfulness, not about other stuff."

In between classes, there's also yoga time. There's also the "calm corner".

"Teach children about their emotions, and help them understand ways that they can self-regulate," said Gilbert.

The lessons also apply at home.

"One of them is take walks, and I use that one a lot because it actually gets the stress out of my head, and it helps me do my work," said 3rd grader Laila Duckworth.

"Just turn off the light, and I just put calming music," said Vega. "I just try to do yoga, something, and then write notes to myself."

Since implementing this program, Leimkuehler says the number of calls about kids acting out have gone down. Staff turnover is almost non-existent, and Holiday Park Elementary School is now the second highest rated school in its district.

Resources for children with adverse childhood experience and toxic stress
Center for Family Health and Safety at Phoenix Children's Hospital
Arizona ACEs Consortium
Kohl's Mindful Me
Boys Town