Perhaps you read this well-reported and -written article by Julie Wootton on MagicValley.com, published by the Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, about how Heritage Academy, a K-8 public school in nearby Jerome, gave the 10-question ACE survey to its students. The older students took the original 10-question ACE survey, while younger students were given a modified version of the sex abuse question.
The brouhaha erupted after a couple of students asked their mother to explain oral and anal sex.
This episode raises at least three questions:
- Should schools give kids in grades K-8 an ACE survey? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Do you know of other schools that are giving kids in grades K-8 an ACE survey?
- If you were to tell the superintendent that giving an ACE survey to K-8 kids isn’t a good idea, what would you say? (I’m assuming you’d approach her in a trauma-informed way, but it’s no surprise that the comments on the article weren’t.)
I’ll give you my answers below, but I’m really more interested in what you think. If you’d add your answers in the comment section, that would be terrific.
My two cents: I think it’s important for us as a community to discuss this, for a couple of reasons. One, the results of the ACE survey at Heritage Academy show that 70 percent of the students had an ACE score of 3 or higher, according to the article. That’s important information for the school and parents, since we all know that, without intervention, these kids’ health, well-being and future success are at risk.
But is there another way to do the survey?
I think another way to obtain that vital information would be to do a school-wide campaign that educates teachers, staff, administration, parents, counselors, school board members, superintendent, and school nurses about ACEs science. And THEN organize a parents group to figure out how best to ask parents about their own ACE scores, so that school counselors or staff can provide assistance to families who need it.
I don’t think schools need kids’ ACE scores if they know the parents’ scores, since research shows that parents pass their ACE scores onto their kids, if there’s no intervention. If teachers are trained in ACEs science, trauma-informed and resilience-building practices, know the kids and the families, and teach in a school that’s integrated policies and practices based on ACEs science, then knowing kids’ ACE scores isn't necessary. (Here's a list of articles about schools that have done this.) They just know what to do when a kid displays symptoms of stress, and the school has different levels of response in place, depending on what’s happening with the kid and the family.
This approach wouldn’t stigmatize children or families. It would be a transparent and trauma-informed approach. And it would help everyone have more empathy for people who have high ACEs, especially if it was part of a community-wide effort.
However, I think it’s really useful to give elementary school kids the language to describe what’s happening to them, as Cherokee Point Elementary in City Heights, San Diego has done. As Jen Hossler explained in an article she wrote last year, "Cherokee Point Elementary School youth leaders learn about Child Abuse Prevention month", kids “talk about trauma and how it impacts their minds, bodies, actions, and reactions”.
“Getting hit or hurt,” “when someone uses drugs or alcohol,” and “not having someone to love you” were some of the answers these kids gave. What amazed me most is that none of the kids were shy about it. This was a conversation they were comfortable having, partly because for many, they have seen first hand what abuse, neglect, poverty, and violence have done to their community and to the people they love the most. But this is also because the adults in their lives — including principals, teachers, support staff, interns, and parents — have developed a shared language and safe spaces to talk about difficult topics like abuse and trauma with them.
The kids also learn about how ACEs can be prevented, and what the resilience factors are in their lives.
I asked the kids to think about what makes them feel safe and loved. “Cookies” was probably my favorite answer (so honest!), but I heard things like “my mom and dad,” “my brother,” “my neighbor,” “my school,” “my stuffed animal,”…the list goes on.
In Jerome, Idaho, the superintendent of Heritage Academy has sent a letter to parents that they won’t be repeating the survey, and says they will get parent input “on how to create a supportive school environment and how to deal with controversial material”.