Study looks at kids' behavior at school

State Rep. Sherrie Conley

State Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, recently hosted an interim study examining the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress on children’s behavior in the classroom and efforts schools can take to help avoid suspension.

The study was held before the House Common Education Committee.

“Violence in the classroom has become a nationwide epidemic,” said Conley, whose District 20 includes an eastern portion of Garvin County.

“The underlying cause often is traced to ACEs or toxic stress. These manifest as struggles in the classroom that then lead to destructive life choices that stretch into adulthood for many of our children.

“We are hoping with this study to find the best solution to intervene in the academic environment and to create wrap-around services in a child’s early years that can help our young people overcome the devastating results of these Adverse Childhood Experiences.”

Presenters at the student included Pauls Valley Superintendent Mike Martin and Mindy Bellack, executive director of Frontline Family Solutions, which offers family services in an area that includes Garvin County.

Conley – a former teacher and school administrator – said by addressing ACES early, educators can help slow down and hopefully prevent alcohol and drug abuse and other youthful offenses, as well as illiteracy, chronic unemployment, and other issues that plague adults who experience toxic stress during childhood.

She also hopes to find ways we can better educate young people on the consequences of their actions that break society’s rules, not just while they’re in school but beyond the classroom.

“Ensuring our educators are well trained in de-escalation tactics, identifying behaviors and academic struggles caused by ACES, and providing plenty of resources to share with our families, we can change the trajectory of young peoples’ lives and build resilient, healthy adults,” she said. “If we start now, our state can move from treating symptoms and dealing with outcomes to true prevention.”

Conley lined up a team of experts to examine the problem of ACEs and toxic stress and to explain how schools currently deal with the resulting behavior issues and methods that might result in better success for a child’s future.

The study focused on educating and properly training teachers before entering the classroom, locating and utilizing resources within Oklahoma communities and state agencies, ensuring the state and schools are setting teachers up for success in the classroom, supporting teachers and administrators when faced with addressing violence, and building relationships with families so trust guides decisions in wrapping around services to help those families in crisis.

Other presenters Zack Stoycoff with Healthy Minds; Dr. Peter Messiah, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services; Drew Eichelberger, superintendent of Bethany Public Schools; Dr. April Grace, superintendent of Shawnee Public Schools; Renee Launey-Rudolf, director, and Jennifer Gambrell, assistant director of the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability; Dawn Keller, school counseling program director at Southwestern Oklahoma State University; and Dr. Sara Rich, executive director of the Oklahoma Schools Psychologist Association.

(Sherrie Conley represents District 20 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Cleveland, Garvin, McClain and Pottawatomie counties.)

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