Directed by James Redford, Paper Tigers is an intimate look into the lives of students at Lincoln High School, an alternative school that specializes in educating youth who’ve experienced more than their fair share of complex trauma. Set amidst the rural community of Walla Walla, Washington, the film explores the inspiring promise of Trauma Informed Communities - a movement that is showing great promise in healing youth struggling with the dark legacy of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Paper Tigers was released for theatrical and community screenings in 2015, and through the generosity of the Alaska Children’s Trust, we recently hosted a screening for AK Child & Family staff.
After the screening, we asked staff for their thoughts and reactions. Many noticed and were inspired by the strong relationships the teachers in the film forged with the students:
• Toxic stress and complex trauma cause neurobiological changes in the brains of youth. What makes a difference is a stable, caring adult in the young person’s life.
• Most impactful intervention – one caring, healthy & consistent relationship with an adult!
• One positive stable adult can change the outcome for children with Adverse Childhood Experiences
• It was pleasing to see another example of a successful alternative to what is typically offered. Given this less punitive environment, and sense of belonging and being cared for with strong connections to at least a few adult role models seemed to produce “off the charts” results. Wouldn’t it be nice for some of our students to transition back to society and have the benefit of a similar learning environment?
• You don't just go up to a kid and tell them "You're Beautiful" because that can create distrust because they don't see that inside themselves. Sometimes you just need to make some contact and let the relationship develop from there.
Other staff were impressed by the school culture which reinforced looking “beneath the behavior”:
• “Behavior” doesn’t define the kid – it is a symptom of what is going on in his or her life
• Look past the “explosion” to the underlying cause…
• We have to unconditionally love them and recognize that their behavior may be out of their control
• When needs are met – emotionally, physically & mentally – the kids respond positively
And then, there were the “Aha!” moments:
• Because it is familiar, “chaos” can be a “comfort zone”
• Positives can send them into a tailspin – not just negatives – Wow!
• Everyone has resiliency. Everyone can find joy. Even in the mist of the darkness in their lives.
• I truly love the idea of putting out the spark before it turns into a forest fire.
• I need to reflect on myself more; to be self aware enough to just meet a youth where they're at without even the need for their acknowledgement of my existence in that moment.
• I can see my teachers, mentors, & some family members in each of those teachers shown in the documentary. I wonder every day, how different my life would have been if those individuals weren't in my life.
And, the parts that drew a tear:
• It hurts to see them struggle when you know they got this!
• To get kicked out of your house as a teen. To have your parents choose to leave your life without any explanation. To have a loved one hurt you emotionally and physically. To have developmental limitations. To have to take care of your siblings, in place of your parents. And then to “make nice” with the world every day. I can't imagine how hard it'd be.
More than one of our staff members simply shared this thought: Everyone should watch this movie! learn more go to http://www.papertigersmovie.com/