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Michigan ACEs Action (MI)

Healthy and resilient kids, families, and communities are the foundation for a flourishing, vibrant region. We are dedicated to creating a trauma-informed Michigan and working together across sectors to share our efforts in building resilience and reducing toxic stress for Michigan children and families.

ACEs Science in Education: The Next Big Challenge is Systems Change #ACEsCon2018


One of the first sessions of the 2018 ACEs Conference:  Action to Access discussed the barriers and opportunities for increasing access in the field of  education. The main question was: "How can one achieve systematic changes within the field of education?"  The session was moderated by Michelle Flowers, a passionate advocate, and the principal of Kinney High in Rancho Cordova, CA, which is part of the Folsom Cordova Unified School District. It included a dynamic and diverse panel of education experts.  


Sondra Samuels 2
Sondra Samuels

First up was Sondra Samuels.  Samuels is the president and chief economic officer of the Northside Achievement Zone, or NAZ, in Minneapolis, MN.  She asked the audience to imagine 1,000 parents, 2,100 scholars and 40 non-profit executives standing with her at the podium. It was an exercise to point out that she is a part of a larger ecosystem dedicated to the success of her community in North Minneapolis. Samuels said that NAZ was made possible by a $28 million grant from the Obama Administration to replicate outcomes produced by the Harlem Children's Zone in New York.

Samuels said that NAZ engages the families of their scholars in a two (or three) generational approach for maximum impact and change. She credits NAZ's success to the systematic assessment of children and families, their ability to secure funding, having a clear sustainability plan and prioritizing community wellness in all efforts. Samuels believes that another factor that makes NAZ so successful is its ability to relieve family stress. The current social service system requires families to go from agency to agency retelling their story over and over, which makes poverty a full time job. NAZ employs family coaches, Samuels explains, who help families navigate systems of support, and make sure that all of the families' efforts are results-based and results-focused. 

As a call-to-action, Samuels asks that the ACEs community begin moving from being trauma-focused to being trauma-informed. Parents and children, especially parents and children of color, she explains, are craving to be seen for their potential, not their trauma. More pointedly, she says, this means: "Don't meet families where they are, meet them where they dream."  

Samuels also made it clear that how language is used can empower or stigmatize. As an example, she said that her scholars are not referred to as "at-risk," they are called "high return." That's because, she said, when you provide support for children coming from high-poverty neighborhoods, the return on investment is high. 

Gladstone School District

Bob Stewart
Bob Stewart

The second panelist, Gladstone School District Superintendent Bob Stewart focused on how collaboration is key to starting and maintaining a successful ACEs initiative. Stewart was able to convince six other school district superintendents in Oregon to join him in an ACEs learning collaborative. His goal: a strong statewide ACEs initiative that actually brings about systems change.  And he did it!  Stewart was able to convince those extremely busy school superintendents to commit to meeting monthly to learn more about ACEs.  Not only did each superintendent have to commit to meeting monthly, they had to commit to bringing along with them eight or more essential school staff to attend, as well. 

Each meeting consisted of reflection, learning and real-life implications of ACEs and childhood trauma in the school setting. And at each meeting, an ACEs expert came to address the group. Eventually, the learning collaborative grew to encompass 32 school districts across Oregon. The meetings were very structured. Norms were developed to ensure equity for all involved and all efforts were action-oriented. The collaboration was able to identify three goals essential to systems change in Oregon. The first goal was to focused on workforce development to ensure staff was informed about ACEs science. The second goal was that early childhood initiatives must be included in efforts to ensure maximum impact. And lastly, an social-emotional learning approach must be adopted for students and staff.  Through collaboration, they determined that the formula for change was to interrupt the cycle of trauma, mitigate harm and foster resilience in Oregon's students.   

Stewart is an ACEs science champion. Stewart's persuasiveness, perseverance and efforts are bringing about systems change in Oregon. This is a testament to the power of one person in the ACEs movement. One is the magic number and an ACEs champion lies within all of us.


Craig Beswick
Craig Beswick

Lastly, Craig Bestwick, vice president of community partnerships, career/technical education & trauma-informed practices for Learn4Life, talked about how Learn4Life is "embracing the kids that schools give up on". Learn4Life serves students who have dropped out of traditional educational settings and provides those students a path to high school graduation and career placement. Beswick started by sharing his ACEs story with the audience. Beswick's parents divorced during his adolescense and he often discusses the negative impact that time period had on his life. Because of his childhood, Beswick said, he saw the importance of investing in children and, once out of the military, he transitioned to education. It was during his time as a principal that he met ACEs Connection staff member Dana Brown in 2012.  It was a pivotal moment: Brown told him about the Adverse Childhood Experience Study and his ACEs journey began. Check out Learn4Life's ACEs Connection online community here!

Beswick said that in his role with Learn4Life, he sells dreams. He assists thousands of students in finding a path to their purpose. The Learn4Life tagline is "Change Your Story." Beswick stressed that accountability for change lies in the students, and Learn4Life empowers them to change their story by providing real opportunity in a trauma-informed manner.

Learn4Life serves approximately 50,000 students, most with traumatic backgrounds. It has 20 schools with locations just opening in Flint, MI, and Columbus, OH.  Beswick emphasizes that Learn4Life's focus is not on trauma, but resilience. He also stated that while there are many trauma-informed schools and programs, most do not address the career component necessary to ensure that students are ready to work and take control of their lives, and their own destiny. If you are interested in bringing Learn4Life to your community, find more info here.

According to Beswick, Learn4Life is able to accomplish real change in their students by having high standards for both their students and Learn4Life's community partners.  This, he explained, ensures that the efforts of the students result in real jobs and opportunities with committed community partners in real need of skilled employees. Learn4Life has all the ingredients for success. Its 50,000 students are supported by more than 45 federally- funded partners, and it has a strong framework that was constructed in partnership with ACEs Connection and has Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-principle investigator of the ACE Study, as one of their many advisors. In addition, they also have a vice president in Beswick who has the raw energy and drive to really move the ACEs movement in education forward. 

In all, the panel session provided both inspiration and the practical insight needed to start an ACEs initiative within an educational setting. The takeaways were the same across the board: Acknowledge historical trauma, set high expectations of students, set high expectations of adults, establish the needed structure upfront and commit to the long haul.

If you are interested in connecting with others who are passionate about trauma-informed, healing-centered educational practices, check out ACEs Connections' online community, ACEs in Education.


Images (3)
  • Craig Beswick: Learn4Life
  • Bob Stewart: Gladstone School District
  • Sondra Samuels 2

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