You could tell the Ashland School District staff is passionate about what they do by their deafening cheering during a presentation at 8:30 a.m. last Thursday. The school year started for staff last week with a health fair emphasizing this year’s theme of “self-care.” Most district students start classes Monday, Aug. 27.
Serena Robinson, student services administrative assistant, said the fair focuses on providing staff with resources dedicated to the five aspects of health: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and social.
Barbie Hobein, a Spanish teacher at Ashland High School, said it’s extremely important for teachers to focus on their own self-care because they determine the quality of the classrooms.
“Primarily, if we’re taking care of ourselves, then it’s going right back to the students, it creates a healthy work environment and it creates a healthy environment for the students also,” Hobein said. “Leading by modeling is a bonus.”
District Human and Resource Director Laurie Rooper added that for many teachers the beginning of the school year brings a lot of germs and illnesses.
The fair featured various presentations by local health care professionals and organizations such as Dr. Deborah Gordon’s presentation on healthy brain food and massages by Vittoria Healing Arts Practitioners. Other organizations providing services and educational talks included Active Acupuncture of Ashland, the YMCA, the Ashland Food Co-Op and Rogue Rowing. The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters market food trucks were in the parking lot providing lunch at a low price.
After an early breakfast, staff congregated in the AHS auditorium to hear from various speakers. The keynote speaker, Peter Buckley, is a former state representative and Southern Oregon Success program manager.
He spoke on the importance of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES). This study was conducted in the late ’90s and found that both positive and negative childhood experiences have a tremendous impact on the remainder of the child’s life.
According to the CDC, a partner in the study, adverse childhood experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death.
“One in two children will develop depression or substance abuse by the age of 18,” Buckley said. “Our kids’ ability to self-regulate has significantly decreased over the past two decades.”
The reason for this is because kids are spending more and more daily time in front of screens and not with each other. Their connection to other people is broken. Other impacts, such as an overall change in family dynamic, poverty and lack of exercise or time spent outdoors, are “creating a horribly perfect storm for dysregulation,” Buckley said.
Buckley said the analytical portion of the brain doesn’t fully form until the age of 25 and in those years when connection doesn’t happen it influences the remainder of that person’s life and makes it more challenging to connect later on in life.
So, he stressed to district staff ways in which to prevent this, such as by making sure each child has a connection with an adult in the school and calling them by name.
“Data shows that if a child is acknowledged by name and eye contact on average three times a day, their academics improve,” Buckley said.
He also encouraged teachers to focus on their own self-regulation before interacting with the children.
“If you’re not present for the children in your life, you’re potentially harming them,” Buckley said.
Member of the wellness committee and retired educator Kathi Bowen-Jones said teachers need to be particularly mindful of how they’re interacting with children and what healthy practices they model for children because students, especially young students, absorb everything.
“You’d be surprised by how much children pay attention to everything we do,” Bowen-Jones said. “If you’re walking to class in the morning with a Big Gulp, you’re giving them permission to do that.”
In other news for the Ashland schools, there is a new Lego robotics club at Willow Wind which will include various competitions with other schools, there will also be a new computer animation class taught by a new teacher, Christopher Plouhar, offered at both the middle and high schools, and a new business course offered at AHS, taught by new teacher Rosie Converse Soriano.
There are 19 total new teachers this year. Most of them are coming to the district with prior experience, Rooper said. There are seven new teachers at the high school, four at the middle school and the rest are dispersed throughout the elementary schools.
The first day of school for all new 7-12 graders and all John Muir kindergarten students is today, Aug. 27. The remainder of Ashland students, excluding Bellview, Helman and Walker kindergarteners, will have a half day Monday. Bellview, Helman and Walker kindergartens’ first day is Tuesday, Sept. 4.