Mike Riley

Ashland High School principal Mike Riley explains to board of education members how adverse childhood experiences impact students' educational outcomes and their future success. 

ASHLAND -- Ashland High School principal Mike Riley updated Ashland City Schools board of education members Monday on his efforts to identify students who have experienced trauma. The goal is to help them develop resilience and discover a sense of hope for the future.

Riley has started this effort with at-risk students at the high school, and the district's administrative team is discussing how to expand the effort to reach more students at a younger age. 

Citing the Adverse Childhood Experiences study from Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Riley explained that research shows traumatic events, like experiencing emotional or physical abuse at home or living with someone who suffers from addiction, can make a child feel like they have little value or meaning in life. 

Those Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to a constant state of stress that can have profound negative affects not only on a child's academic success and their behavior in school but also on their productivity later in life and even their long-term physical health.

If a child feels they lack meaning and purpose in their life, they are more likely to gravitate toward aggression, addiction or depression, Riley said. But just as important as trauma is a child's resilience -- his or her ability to bounce back after a traumatic experience. 

Resilience is built, Riley said, through healthy relationships with adults who affirm, celebrate, adore and connect with the child unconditionally. 

"As a school system, we have 15,000 hours with (a student) from the time he enters kindergarten through the time he graduates," Riley said. "No other institution in our society is more poised to do this work."

Based on these concepts from the research he has studied, Riley had high school students take a purpose-in-life assessment in fall 2016. He then asked each staff member to "adopt" one student from a list of the 50 students who scored lowest on the assessment and to attempt to affirm, celebrate and connect with that student. 

Meanwhile, the school also implemented a career planning program for all students. 

In a post-test at the end of the year, Riley said, staff discovered the career planning efforts made no impact on the student body's sense of meaning and purpose. 

"But to our surprise, the adopted group experienced an 11-percent increase in the purpose-and-meaning score," Riley said. "And in the following year, 2017, many of these students were no longer identified by the pre-survey in the fall."

Riley is planning to increase the number of "adopted" students at the high school this year. He is also working to help the district implement similar strategies district-wide to build resilience and lower the effects of childhood trauma. 

In addition to the presentation from Riley, the board's work session included an update on the the proposed new fieldhouse at Ashland High School. Superintendent Doug Marrah told the board the district has received about $1,131,000 in private donation pledges toward the project. 

Board member James Wolfe said he would like to see the district communicate more with the public about the need for the fieldhouse as well as the cost and the funding for the project.

Board member Bryan Lefelhoc responded by saying he would rather wait to provide such an update until Marrah and other fundraisers have finished what has been a quiet, ongoing fundraising campaign. 

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