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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Rocking the Future at Brumby

Some days are not what we expect. This was true of my day at Brumby Elementary School in Marietta, Georgia. I was invited by former student, Sandra Lake and her fellow Academic Coach, Tami Shields. Spending a day in a school and speaking to teachers is always on my list of favorite things to do! This day is now a treasured memory and held some surprises.

In 1966, Brumby Elementary was named in honor of Otis Brumby, a member of the family who created the Brumby Rocker. The school recently moved to a newly constructed two-level building which was undoubtedly the largest elementary school building I have ever toured. With nearly 1,000 students, it needed to be!

Brumby Elementary was a seemingly endless maze of classrooms, offices, meeting spaces, workrooms, storage areas, gym, lunchroom/auditorium, library, music and art rooms. I felt like I had landed in an educational wonderland filled with STEM, art, music, literature, work spaces, "calm rooms," a gymnasium full of activity on a rainy day, and much more! All of these are essential experiences for children affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Brumby’s population includes Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, and the school’s ethnicity report is as follows (subject to daily changes): Black-59%, Hispanic-24%, White/Caucasian-7%, Asian- 5%, and Multi-Racial-5%. It is a Title I school in which 72 % of the student population is economically disadvantaged and receives free and reduced lunch services. Many of Brumby Elementary students live in apartment complexes or hotels in the area which contributes to the transient rate of 44.96%. In other words, Brumby faces challenges which are all too common in our nation.

I spoke to over 100 staff members (teachers, paras, admin, etc.) at the end of the day. The subject was the effects of trauma on brain development and learning. As always, I was speaking from my own story and learning challenges as a child. The room was quiet while I talked. I hoped that meant engagement, but it was at the end of a long school day and I understood there had to be some exhaustion mixed in. But when I provided a discussion task, they came alive.

I am a teacher at heart. There is nothing quite like trying out a new learning activity and watching “students” do exactly what I hoped they would. Suddenly the room filled with the words, amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. It was almost magical. My objectives seemed to have been accomplished (to the degree they could be in a little over an hour). It was a great start to becoming trauma-informed!

  • Explain three ways trauma affects brain development/functioning.

  • Connect trauma-affected brain development to specific symptoms/behaviors.

  • Build a framework to Identify trauma-informed classroom strategies.

Really, in so short a time, all that can be hoped for is a paradigm shift. If any participant in my workshops/sessions walks away thinking differently about even one thing, I count it as success. My intent was to help teachers understand that children who have been traumatized in significant ways, haven’t just had a difficult day (or life), their brains didn’t develop in the same way as well-nurtured children. The lens through which they view life is quite different. But (and that is such a hopeful “but”), if we can help them feel safe within the school and their relationships with others, their brains can heal and develop.

What potential for change exists in these challenging school situations. If our nation would decide that education and community resources were the best hope for a positive future and invest in schools like Brumby, we could change the future. It is all about investing.

While touring the school, I saw two book carts sitting in a lobby area. “Why are those there?” I asked. The explanation was that about 90 volunteers from the community came to the school one day a week during their lunch hour to read a book to a child. I watched as a professionally dressed woman walked in, greeted a child, and then walked off down the hall together to the room where they would sit and read. This is how we change the future; this is investing.

I wanted to get this reflection finished before my life launched into the Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools Conference. I almost made it, but better late than never! Every attendee at the conference came because of children like those I saw in the classrooms at Brumby. Some of those children face nearly unsurmountable challenges, but the passionate adults attending the conference are doing all they can to help them. Every attendee represented hundreds of children who need adults to care about them.

Finally, I am always curious about the history of places and people. So, I did some searching for the Brumby family story and the rockers (which you can find here). I found this statement: “Brumby Rockers are designed to withstand drastic changes in humidity and temperature. Brumby Rockers are assembled using hand wedged techniques allowing the wood to give with the change in temperature and last for generations.”

“It’s a word picture for what Brumby Elementary is trying to do!” (I admit to exclaiming this out loud.)

These children will not have simple lives, but never underestimate the survival instincts born of trauma--the key is relationships which help them heal the wounds and channel their strength in positive ways. What we need to do is provide healthier tools for them to use as they weather the challenges in their lives—tools that can be passed down to future generations. Those tools are what the Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) is all about. When we know better ways, we can use better ways.

Yes, we can help this young generation thrive in our challenging world if we all work together. In conversations at the conference, two people said, “It will take seven generations to turn this around.” This present generation is our responsibility. The educators across our nation are determined but exhausted. They need us to care about them and the children in their schools and classrooms.

Together, we can do this. We can gather these children into our laps and rock the future.

A huge thank you to Brumby Elementary, the administration, amazing teachers and staff, and especially these two women who share my passion for helping the children in our most challenging schools. You have enriched my life Sandra Lake and Tami Shields!)

(Rocker Image by chapay from Pixabay)

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