The Success Academy’s new leadership team, trained in trauma-informed care and certified in youth mental health, is helping struggling students who have fallen behind at more traditional schools catch up, fill in gaps in their education, and, well, succeed.
In June, Jessica Lowe became the new principal the Success Academy At Ghazvini Learning Center, an alternative school serving grades six through 12, located at 854 Blountstown Street.
Success Academy takes students, either through parent application or school recommendation, who are overage for their grade and puts a curriculum in place for them to catch up to the right grade level. It also works with students to fill in instructional gaps they experienced, often from being moved from place to place.
The approach Lowe is using at Success to address the needs of struggling students is a pilot program for Leon County Schools. Success is now a trauma-informed care school.
What does trauma have to do with children falling behind in school?
The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that one out of every four children attending school were exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior.
According to the Treatment and Services Adaptation Center (TSAC), a website supported by respected authorities in the areas of school trauma and crisis response, symptoms resulting from trauma can directly impact a student’s ability to learn.
The website explained, “Students might be distracted by intrusive thoughts about the event that prevent them from paying attention in class, studying, or doing well on a test. Exposure to violence can lead to decreased IQ and reading ability. Some students might avoid going to school altogether.”
In a trauma-informed school, administrators, teachers, staff, etc. are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress. Students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations.
“The goal,” according to TSAC, “is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.”
Lowe’s teachers are trained in restorative practices and nonviolent communication techniques.
She said, “We tend to have students that maybe didn’t fit in the traditional school model and may have behavior problems. We trained our teachers in nonviolent communication so that they can diffuse situations more swiftly and the student can be engaged and brought back on task.”
She also brought in the Makerspace concept which is a tool for students that feel overwhelmed or are dealing with trauma. They can go to a little corner of the library set up as a cooldown area. Students play with fine motor manipulatives and things designed to keep their minds busy so that they can calm down and tell a teacher or administrator what’s going on. For instance, they may be homeless or experiencing teen dating issues.
“Our new leadership team puts an emphasis on being consistent but caring,” she said. “That’s our message, be consistent but show them that you care about them. It changed discipline numbers because we’ve been able to show empathy with the students and de-escalate issues that may arise and help them re-engage so that they can get the classes done.”
This is Lowe’s 16th year in education. She started out as a language arts and social studies teacher at Deer Lake Middle School. She quickly rose through the ranks, first as the project manager for the superintendent of schools and then as an assistant principal. Lowe opened the first virtual school in Leon County and remains as its principal. She oversees the homeschool office for the district as well. She also oversees the graduation rate for each high school, and credit recovery at all 16 middle school and high school sites.
She appreciates the support she’s received from the Leon County School District.
“I have a heavy emphasis on trauma-informed care, and I believe in it,” Lowe said. “I learned as a teacher, if you show students you care about them, they will care about you. I have seen such a return on investment when you invest in them and actually do things that they’re interested in and pay attention to what’s going on at home. You affirm with your discipline as well, but you give them Grace when Grace is needed.”