Local High School’s Successes Highlighted in Documentary


Martina Pansze, A&E Editor

Amid the shuffle of finals stress, it’s easy to forget what’s going on outside of the bubble. Just a few blocks away from campus, however, is Lincoln High School, an alternative high school that specializes in educating traumatized youth.

The documentary “Paper Tigers” follows the stories of Lincoln Students and how the school addresses trauma. It was screened on Thursday, Dec. 3rd in a packed Cordiner Hall as part of a series of over 70 nation-wide screenings during American Education Week. The film has been selected for festivals and has received critical success.

The director of “Paper Tigers” James Redford told The Pioneer that he was inspired to make the documentary after reading a study about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The 1991 study claims that childhood trauma directly correlates to poor outcomes later in life, such as drug use, behavioral issues, and teenage pregnancy.

Examples of ACEs include sexual assault, violence, not having enough to eat, and divorced parents. Typically, ACEs are categorized into ten types of trauma. To calculate an “ACE Score,” participants counted how many traumas from the list they had experienced before age 18.

The study showed that six ACEs correlated to 20 years off of life expectancy. However, at Lincoln High School, students who had 5.5 ACEs were performing as if they had zero ACEs.

“The [ACE study] results were shocking, and by the mid-90s the science was solid but the question was raised, ‘what would one do with that science?’” said Redford.

“From there, my question became ‘does anything change if you know this stuff?’…And it turns out Lincoln has a profound level of success, so I thought I would spend an academic year sitting and watching to try and see why.”

Redford shot for a year at the school, beginning in the spring of 2012. Some of the footage was also shot by featured kids themselves with hand-held cameras. Redford said that he made that decision because he wanted to capture the student’s interior lives without being intrusive or manipulative.

“It didn’t come to me right off the bat. I was witnessing extraordinary things but some of the kids were understandably resistant to talk to me,” said Redford. “Then I thought, ‘do I want to empower them to tell their own story?’”

Much of Lincoln’s success is because of The Health Center, a free primary care, substance abuse and mental counseling facility right next to Lincoln’s campus (no connection to the Whitman Health Center). Established in 2009 as a non-profit organization, The Health Center serves as an intervention for at-risk Lincoln students.

“It’s a valuable resource for students there who don’t have access to the care we provide any other way,” said the Director of The Health Center Stan Ledington, who helped organize the Cordiner screening of “Paper Tigers.”

“We’re also out-of-the-box in terms of who we are, like student’s aren’t walking into a scary, white-coat atmosphere, it’s a place where some of my staff is weirder than the kids are, so they’re loving it,“ said Ledington.

Senior Politics major Josh Rubenstein was involved with Lincoln’s Health Center through the State of the State for Washington Latinos program, a community-based research project that Professor Paul Apostolidis ran out of the politics department.

His sophomore year, Rubenstein studied what about Lincoln’s model was proving successful as well as researched how Washington state can better support school-based health centers. Rubenstein researched with partners Claire Johnson ’14 and Kate McMurchie ’15. McMurchie interviewed students and teachers at Lincoln as well as staff at The Health Center as part of the study.

Rubenstein introduced the movie at the event Thursday.

“What we found in our research is that because [Lincoln and The Health Center] are so closely integrated teachers are happy to send students to the health center, even if it’s during class, and make sure the students know that’s a support they can use,” said Rubenstein.

“And because they have that support they’re able to be more present in class. … The close relationship with the school is one of the most important aspects of why The Health Center has been so successful.”

The Health Center also provides support to Lincoln teachers as well, helping them deal with difficult and draining situations.

“Instead of the school or intervention specialist saying “you have to go make an appointment to go see somebody” which may or may not happen… at Lincoln they can say, ‘here let’s walk over and we can get rolling on this.’ The location really takes away that barrier,” said Ledington.

The Health Center has a second facility in Blueridge Elementary School Clinic. Ledington said that the Blueridge clinic has really surprised The Health Center in the sheer number of kids who have emotional or behavioral issues that demand help.

Almost 70% of the Blueridge facility’s work is done is with a counselor, and only 30% is with a primary care provider (similar to a ‘school nurse’). At Lincoln, the services are relatively equal.

The Health Center doesn’t receive state support and health centers are not being supported in an institutionalized way.

“I think it’s important to realize that the value of the services they’ve provided are at this point precarious, funding-wise. Pretty much all of their funding comes from donations and grants,” said Rubenstein.

“It’s a struggle for us to stay afloat. We’re constantly looking for ways to support the services we provide,” said Ledington.

Redford said that his expectations going into the project were challenged during the filming process.

“The year itself was not jam-packed with drama, other years had much more excitement, and that made us focus on the more subtle, more about internal lives of students… I was also surprised and in awe by how inspiring the teachers ended up being, they far surpassed my expectations. The patience, love and capacity they possess is stellar,” he said.

Redford said that after watching the film, a question that people often have is “how did they pull off opening that health center?”

“I think it’s a reflection of Walla Walla and the community that they were able to make that happen. So when I heard that [the screening at Cordiner] was a fundraiser for The Health Center, I was thrilled but also not surprised,” said Redford.

“[‘Paper Tigers’] really pulls you in to the traumas and the struggles that these kids have and it kind of makes your heart well and swell because there’s a lot going on. While it’s emotional and kind of raw, it’s also uplifting because it gives you a notion that there are paths out of the discomfort and out of the miserable lives that kids have,” said Ledington.

For more information, visit www.thehealthcenterww.org and www.papertigersmovie.com.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Josh Rubenstein interviewed students and teachers at Lincoln. The research interviews were done by Kate McMurchie ’15.