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District Hosts Visit from UK Researcher on Wellness Practices

Tod Sullivan sits among students in Amanda Bethune’s 3rd grade classroom at
Ladd Acres Elementary School.

September 17, 2018 - The week of September 10, the Hillsboro School District was honored to host a visit from Tod Sullivan, the mental health ambassador and leader of the Feedback Project in his hometown of Lowestoft in Suffolk County, England.

Lowestoft is a coastal town that has had more than its share of economic blows over the last several decades - declines in the fishing industry, a loss of factories, and diminished use of the port have led to a high degree of generational poverty and accompanying mental health issues.

Driven by a desire to both improve the quality of life for the residents of Lowestoft by systematically and holistically addressing their mental health needs, and to put Lowestoft on the map as a place known for positive mental health, Sullivan applied for a prestigious Churchill Fellowship earlier this year and was selected as one of just 150 awardees from among more than 1,000 applicants across England.

His fellowship is supporting a six-week trip to the United States where he is learning firsthand how schools are helping students build community and better access their academics by addressing their mental health needs through trauma-informed practices.

The bulk of his time here will be spent in Walla Walla, Washington. That is the site of Lincoln High School, made famous by the documentary Paper Tigers, which chronicles the school’s trauma-informed approach to interacting with and supporting students. Under the leadership of former principal (now consultant) Jim Sporleder, staff at the school gained in-depth knowledge of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on students’ behavior and ability to access their education. Approaching their students in a trauma-informed manner and supporting students’ emotional well-being as they were teaching them, led to a dramatic reduction of suspensions, increased graduation rates, and an increase in students going on to post-secondary education.

Though Sullivan has read the research, watched the documentary, and even dialogued with people here in the States about trauma-informed care and wellness, nothing could really take the place of talking to people face-to-face and immersing himself in the environment.

His awareness of HSD’s work with trauma-informed care and wellness came from running across Tweets from Grant Corliss, executive director of schools. They connected on social media and Corliss invited him to spend part of his trip in Hillsboro.

Here, he has met with executive staff, principals, counselors, student success counselors, care coordinators, teachers on special assignment, and wellness room assistants to learn more about our positive behavior systems, including the PAX Good Behavior Game, classroom “calm” or “peace” corners, wellness rooms and protocols, and trauma-informed practices that are being taught and modeled across the district.

He has been particularly impressed by the implementation of the PAX Good Behavior Game, with its focus on peer-to-peer support and community-building. He also likes the practice of giving “Tootles,” or notes of appreciation (as opposed to “tattles,” which focus on negative behaviors), to one another, as that really teaches students how to reinforce the norms that they have collectively agreed upon.

“I can really see the buy-in, effort, and modeling of expected behaviors from the top down,” Sullivan expressed. “I think this is absolutely key to the success of a large-scale wellness effort and to really changing the culture of a school or community.”

Upon returning to Lowestoft after his trip to the U.S., Sullivan intends to share his findings and recommendations with town officials and the charitable organization he works for - the Access Community Trust - as well as leaders across the country.

We are pleased and honored to have hosted Mr. Sullivan and look forward to our continued collaboration.

Read more about Sullivan online:

And click here to learn more about HSD’s trauma-informed approach and wellness centers.