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Building Resilience through History and Hope

A 2018 impACT story

Alaska is a beautiful and unique state, with places and people like nowhere else. Unfortunately, it is also a state with problems like nowhere else. From child abuse to substance abuse and low graduation rates to high suicide rates, Alaska is at or near the top of every list.

Driven by the belief that understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and resilience will begin to turn the tide, the Alaska Resilience Initiative (ARI), an initiative of Alaska Children’s Trust, led the effort to develop an Alaska-specific curriculum to educate Alaskans on these topics.

After more than a year of intense work involving a diverse and passionate statewide group, the new curriculum, History and Hope, was piloted this spring. The curriculum is designed to “train the trainers” to go out and educate audiences on what ACEs are, why they are so significant, why resilience is so critical, and how to build it.

Training programs on ACEs and resilience are not unique – in fact, ARI began using a different curriculum to train trainers in 2014. However, it soon became apparent that the program – developed in the lower 48 – was missing some critical pieces for the Alaska audience. “We found it did not meet the needs of Alaska, and it became clear that we needed an Alaska-specific curriculum,” says Laura Norton-Cruz, ARI director.

Big picture, the two things that the new curriculum incorporates are context – specifically addressing the significance of historical and ongoing systemic trauma, as well as the strength and healing power of Alaska Native culture – and hope, providing real-life examples and tangible tools so audience members leave feeling like they can begin to make a difference in a complex problem that Alaska has grappled with for decades.

“In Alaska, we have our own culture and pride about being Alaskan. The land, the people who have been here for thousands of years. There is strong culture and knowledge to learn from,” says Anna Meredith, one of new History and Hope facilitators.

Two versions of the curriculum have been developed to date – one specifically for those in the health care field, and a second focused on K – 12 educators. The goal is to create additional versions for other audiences, including early childhood educators, legal professionals, policymakers and parents.

“We chose school and health care first because they are essential places where trauma shows up, and it is important for those audiences to be trauma-informed. Anyone in education – from teachers to front desk staff to noon duties – can help create a safe space. Same in health care – from the receptionist to the doctor – it’s really important that everyone have access to this,” Laura says.

ARI began piloting History and Hope this spring, with presentations in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer and Juneau. One of the first presentations took place at the R.E.C. Room at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic in Homer, where board members, clinicians and staff from accounting, administration, youth education and outreach participated.

“The training reinvigorated previous brainstorming,” says Anna, the R.E.C. Room’s youth program manager. For example, the clinic’s trauma-informed care team is now building off of Homer’s ACEs brochure to include specific local resources, as well as developing acupressure point cards that provide clients with an effective calming technique.

Another pilot presentation was offered in Fairbanks at the Alaska Native Education program, which serves Alaska Native and American Indian students in grades K-12 by providing a wide variety of services, including academic, social and cultural support.

“It was the first time many staff had heard about ACEs,” says Yatibaey Evans, program director. “Having their eyes opened to the (ACEs) study and how trauma affects kids is helpful to understanding and building compassion and empathy. It increased their open arms, made them wider.”

LaVerne Demientieff, clinical associate professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was closely involved in the development of History and Hope and is also one of the curriculum facilitators.

“My hope for the curriculum is that we build compassion, connection, ceremony and curiosity,” she shares. “Part of the understanding of the impacts of trauma is being more compassionate. You’re less likely to place blame and more likely to understand that something happened to this person.”

At the Alaska Native Education program, Yatibaey’s ultimate goal is higher graduation rates. “The curriculum helps adults learn how to help children heal and feel supported at school,” she says. “When students feel supported, they are more likely to engage in work and graduate.”

Anna is also optimistic about the potential for the curriculum to impact youth. “The end goal for me is that the next generation of young people get this,” she says. “My hope is that it’ll be a step in a cultural shift and empower people through the science of resilience, give them understanding and compassion of where people are and why.”

Laura shares a similar perspective. “I hope people walk out thinking differently about their students and patients, feeling more compassionate and curious, wondering what’s going on and how can they help,” she says. “We want to give people more tools and an understanding to support compassionate practices. The idea is that when institutions are more trauma-informed, and take a more culturally responsive approach, they’re more effective – there are better outcomes.”

Learn more about ARI and History and Hope at akresilience.org.

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