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“Stressed Brains Can’t Learn”

December 21, 2015

In 2010, Jim Sporleder went to a conference with no idea of the impact that the information was going to have on himself, or the change that it would influence. The Principal of an alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington, Sporleder had charged himself with the task of turning around a school populated with children that no one seemed to be able to reach. A place the kids themselves described as a dumping ground. He left with new information that would not only spark change in his school, but help build the fire on the movement of trauma-informed care in schools…

“Stressed brains can’t learn.”

Armed with research on how the toxic stress created as a result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) impact brain development, Lincoln High adopted a trauma-informed approach that goes against the grain of traditional school discipline. The astonishing results are chronicled in the new documentary, Paper Tigers.

Paper Tigers


“Paper Tigers captures the pain, the danger, the beauty, and the hopes of struggling teens—and the teachers armed with new science and fresh approaches that are changing their lives for the better.”

The Anna B. Lawther Academy at Hillcrest Family Services is committed to following the same trail blazed by Lincoln High School. To enhance the training offered to all staff in the academy on trauma-informed care and Adverse Childhood Experiences, Lawther Academy offered a screening of Paper Tigers as a professional development opportunity during Education Week. The discussion and feedback from the staff was moving, reflecting their motivation to move forward in doing right by the children they show up every day to help.

In the film, Lincoln High science teacher Erik Gordon points out, “According to research about childhood trauma, all the risk factors for adverse childhood experiences can be offset by one thing. The presence of a stable, caring adult in the child’s life.” One adult can make a huge difference. Evidenced by the almost 100 schools, universities, and communities that hosted screenings of Paper Tigers during Education Week, many are invested in the hope of these children.

– Lee Johnson, Behavior Strategist, Anna B. Lawther Academy at Hillcrest Family Services


Paper Tigers Movie 

Paper Tigers celebrates Education Week with 100 screenings across the U.S.

 Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline — suspensions drop 85%