Paper Tigers

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ROCHELLE — The Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council is presenting “Paper Tigers,” a documentary showcasing one high school’s approach at changing ways students’ behavioral issues are being addressed.

Rochelle Township High School is hosting the screening on Tues., Apr. 4 at 4:30 p.m., followed with a panel discussion.

Directed by James Redford, the movie documents the lives of staff and students at an alternative high school in Washington where discipline matters and poor academic performances were usually met with suspensions. Upon discovering studies on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the school changed from exclusionary discipline practices and instead took the students’ lives at home into account — those that might have experienced trauma or abuse of any kind.

“The behavior isn’t the kid. The behavior is a symptom of what’s going on in their life,” said Erik Gordon, science teacher featured in “Paper Tigers.”

Samantha Anderson, Director of the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council, explained why the Justice Council’s Executive Committee chose this film.

“The movie was chosen because it depicts the positive results that can be produced from implementing trauma-informed practices in the classroom, instead of routine practices such as suspensions and expulsions,” Anderson said. “This methodology aligns with the shift currently occurring in the juvenile justice system.”

Anderson noted that resources, such as diversion or restitution, are being utilized along with counseling components and public service instead of the traditional punitive consequences.

The target audience includes parents, educators, professionals in the juvenile justice system, the medical field, law enforcement, the mental health field, social services, and community-minded individuals.

Anderson stressed that parental discretion is advised due to some profanity.

“Prosecutors dealing with youth in the criminal justice system need to protect public safety with the ultimate goal of doing justice. Sometimes this means diverting youth out of the traditional system to alternative programs which hold young offenders accountable, but does not burden them with a criminal record which forecloses future opportunities to become productive members of society," Eric Morrow, Ogle County State's Attorney said.

Panel discussion

The panel will include:  Professor Miranda B. Johnson, Associate Director of Loyola’s Education Law and Policy Institute, serving as moderator; Cherie Estrada, Manager of Child Development Initiatives at the Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Honorable Judge John B. Roe IV, Circuit Judge of the Fifteenth Judicial Court; Eric Morrow, Ogle County States Attorney; Dr. Jon Madrell, Vice President of Academics and Student Services at Sauk Valley Community College; and Jodee Craven, HUB Project Grant Manager.

Below is an excerpt from the film’s summary on

“The staff at the high school takes into account the students’ lives at home as children who suffer from an ACE or trauma, which can come in the form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, can increase the risk of certain diseases, behavioral issues, learning problems, substance abuse, and early death. This can happen because the stress associated with these experiences can change the way a child’s brain develops. The teaching methods and behavior management at Lincoln help to combat the ‘toxic stress’ by caring for the students’ lives outside school and having a gentler approach towards their behaviors.”

According to the summary, the new approach is doing well and is now being implemented in other high schools in Washington.

"Becoming more informed about complex trauma is a great first step at being able to help change the way we look at helping kids both in and out of our justice system,” said Brenda Mason, LCPC Clinical Supervisor at Focus House, Juvenile Justice Executive Committee Member.

For more information contact Samantha Anderson at [email protected].

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