A Culture of Care at John Wetten

John Wetten Elementary’s Culture of Care to help all children, including those coping with trauma [published February 2014]

shapeimage_3An $80,000 grant from CareOregon launched a groundbreaking effort in Gladstone Schools, supporting elementary students who suffered traumatic events in early childhood.   The goal is improving children’s long-term health and academic success.

A Kaiser Permanente study in 1995-97 revealed that individuals who faced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as abuse, domestic violence, loss of a parent, or living with a substance abuser have dramatically increased life-long risks from health issues, addiction, and depression.

“The evidence is overwhelming regarding the impact of trauma. By addressing this issue through Trauma Informed Practice, we look forward to further enhancing the well being of Gladstone children,” said Superintendent Bob Stewart. “CareOregon has been a wonderful partner with the Gladstone community.  We have benefitted from their knowledge, expertise and resources.  This next step in our journey together is truly exciting.”

Wendy Wilson, principal of John Wetten Elementary, has been studying education and counseling strategies to help students coping with ACEs. She understands that students who have had highly stressful experiences in their lives may also have difficulty succeeding academically. Research has shown that constant stress impacts brain development in young children.

“Children are impacted by toxic stress in different ways. Some have difficulty regulating emotions, while others show lack of attention, impulsivity, or extreme passivity,” explained Wilson.  “For these children to develop in healthy ways, they need connections to caring mentors and strategies to self-regulate their emotions, behaviors, and attention.”

Staff training is an essential component of the program, as the school works to build teacher awareness of the reasons behind children’s behavior, and to learn trauma-sensitive, strengths-based approaches and routines to help children cope.

“Providing predictable routines, attachment to positive adults, and teachers in touch with children’s social/emotional development will benefit our entire student body,” added Wilson. “Children who have experienced higher levels of trauma and stress can build resiliency and coping strategies with help from small support groups, one-on-one mentors, and mental health therapy.”

“We are pleased to support the efforts of Gladstone Schools to address early childhood trauma,” said Patrick Curran, CareOregon’s chief executive officer. “It is a great example of what we are trying to accomplish through Coordinated Care Organizations: addressing the important determinants of health early and comprehensively. We believe this initiative will have a life-long impact on these children.”

“We all know a few amazing adults who had the worst childhoods imaginable, but managed to find success despite the odds,” said Wilson.  “Our goal is to make that possible for every student who experienced childhood trauma.”
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Culture of Care boosts reading, math [published October 2017]

The past two years, John Wetten students made huge gains in English Language Arts.  In last year’s state tests, Gladstone fifth graders beat the state average by 5.3 percent, fourth graders by 11.4 percent, and third graders by 13.3 percent.

Wetten is a model for Response to Intervention, a strategy for early identification and support of students with learning or behavior needs. After universal screening, children receive interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate learning.

The school’s Culture of Care approach trains staff to use calming strategies that make classrooms a productive learning environment. The trauma-informed approach has payoffs not just in improved health and reduced stress, but also in academic achievement.

“With fewer distractions and with targeted supports in place, students can work to their highest potential,” said  Assistant Superintendent Jeremiah Patterson. “Our next goal is to expand these strategies to our kindergarten and middle school.”

Gladstone’s sixth grade math students also exceeded the state average, with state test scores up over 12 percent from the previous year.

“Our team has done outstanding work in these areas,” said Patterson. “We intend to keep this momentum going.”