by Aaron Brom
The hundreds of Elk River Area School District teachers who came to Rogers High School Wednesday, Aug. 30, for an all-staff meeting might have expected a feel-good message.
And they got it, but also highlighting the meeting was a somber message of how to cope with despair, in this case “traumatized” students.
Highlighting the plight of these students and how to empower them was the guest speaker, Dr. Bernard Franklin, director of university programs at Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas City.
While introducing Franklin, Superintendent Dan Bittman highlighted how Franklin became the first black student ever elected Kansas State University president of the Student Government Association. At the age of 24, Franklin also made Kansas history by becoming the youngest person ever appointed to the Kansas State Board of Regents and the youngest chair of the board at age 28.
He has been a fellow for the study of the United States presidency and has served on an advisory commission to President Jimmy Carter’s administration with Martin Luther King III and other prominent African Americans.
His theme to District 728 educators was “Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools.”
He spoke about how fast the world is changing, moving from a farm to factory environment, and now from factory “to out of space.”
“We’re going to technology that you and I can’t begin to understand,” he said, highlighting how Google Fiber in Kansas City will usher in an age where appliances like refrigerators are “smart,” connected to the Internet and providing their users with real-time data about refrigerated contents and links to order new ones.
“Every aspect of the Jetsons is in the process of being patented now,” he said of the “futuristic” cartoon from the 1960s that featured things like flying cars, which he said will become a reality.
“We’re making a huge shift in our culture to places we can’t comprehend.”
Along with the shift in technology is a rapidly changing family environment, where children are coping with verbal and physical abuse, and neglect from “broken families and chaos.”
“If America wants to stay strong, we have to produce young people who can deal with that future,” Franklin said.
“Trauma overwhelms a child. Trauma interferes with normal development. Those fundamental steps are missing.”
He also said trauma changes the physical chemistry inside young people’s brains, noting that children in a constant “freeze-fight state” are not going to act their chronological age. Thus, he strongly encouraged that students need to feel safe, as well as needing good nutrition, good hydration and physical activity.
Speaker encourages promotion of four Rs
Franklin encouraged teachers to promote the four Rs: rigor, relationships, relevance and resiliency.
“Life is hard, but you can climb over whatever is in front of you,” he said. “Think of new ways to give your young people attention.”
Along with taking care of the students, Franklin emphasized that teachers, too, must take care of themselves, as they also fight through family difficulties at home and burnout in the classroom.
“Take time to nurture yourself, build self-confidence, practice an exercise regimen, get diet and rest, use a daily planner, take journals.”
Franklin said he begins each day with meditation, and has helped promote Zumba physical activity classes for teachers in Kansas City.
“Education has never been at a crossroads like it is now,” Franklin said. “It’s going to take a change from all of us. Incorporate mindfulness.”
He closed by quoting the late Bobby Kennedy, former attorney general and brother of President John F. Kennedy.
Of the lessons he learned from Kennedy, Franklin said in closing, “I do what I can to make sure I contribute to the good of our country. I believe in who we are, and we can work through common challenges.”
New superintendent introduces himself
The all-staff meeting also offered a chance for new Superintendent Bittman to introduce himself.
Mirroring District 728’s mission statement, Bittman encouraged teachers to “challenge how you educate, challenge how you inspire, challenge how you empower. Each and every single person in this room will make a difference.”
He reminded the teachers that their profession is a “life choice.”
“I need you. I challenge each of you to learn every day,” he said. “Be courageous, take chances and have fun. Be the reason our kids want to come to school every day. They need us.”