From Experiencing ACE’s to Acing Tests

Sayda Morales

It is no wonder that Lincoln Alternative High School‘s mascot is the phoenix. At Lincoln, the students and staff prove that from a sad and despairing place, someone stronger and brighter can rise. On Tuesday, Feb. 26 I attended a panel in which Principal Jim Sporleder, faculty, and a student from Lincoln spoke about their experiences. From this event I have come to believe that Lincoln’s healing rather than punishing approach to educating at-risk youth is the approach that all schools in this country need to take in order for more students to stay and learn in school.

Students at Lincoln Alternative have often been placed there due to truancy issues. When students stop going to classes at Wa-Hi, Lincoln becomes the alternative option. In the past, Lincoln was considered a kind of dumping ground where those students who misbehaved too much or showed a lack of interest in school were sent. Three years ago a determined Jim became principal of Lincoln and introduced his newfound vision. Now the entire faculty and student body at Lincoln have been steering the school in a new direction. Instead of punishing students, faculty seek to rehabilitate them. For instance, if a student were to say “F**k you!” to a teacher in a regular public school, they would immediately be suspended or have disciplinary action taken against them. However, at Lincoln, the teachers and principal instead ask the student, “What’s going on in your life right now?” in order to assess where the root of the problem is coming from.

For many students they have never been asked how they are doing or what’s going on in their lives. A lot of the students at Lincoln have or are currently undergoing adverse childhood experiences, or ACE’s for short. And it is as a result from ACE’s that students’ performance at school is negatively affected. If you are homeless or have to take on an adult role because your parents are addicted to drugs, it is difficult to focus in school and it is much easier to feel angry and frustrated. The faculty at Lincoln understand the impacts that ACE’s have on their students, which is why they are so patient and understanding. With the recent addition of a health center, Lincoln has now been able to offer mental and physical aid to those students in need, and as research has shown, this has made a huge difference in the personal, social, and academic life of the students.

The number of suspensions has gone down dramatically since Jim and the Lincoln faculty have adopted this new compassionate approach to education and discipline. But not only have suspensions gone down because they no longer believe in immediately suspending students, but the amount of referrals have gone down as student attendance has inversely gone up.  This means that more students are showing up to school and acting out less. Lincoln is seeing a dramatic shift in the way that the students are participating in class and opening up more. Knowing that the health center is free and that it and the school itself are safe spaces makes students eager to go to school.

Lincoln has become a home where students can be themselves and not be harmed or judged in any way. For many students the neighborhoods or the places in life they come from are turbulent and unpredictable, but when they walk into the doors of Lincoln they can be sure to expect a safe and supportive atmosphere. There are so many students falling through the cracks of our education system because our educators are not taking the moment to inquire why a student may be misbehaving or not showing up to class. If our educators were to simply pause and try to understand what the troubled student may be going through, then we may very well see the power that healing has in restoring intellectual curiosity and motivating all students to want to learn.