James Redford, documented the lives of staff and students of Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington as the director of “Paper Tigers”. Students at this high school had behavioral issues and poor academic performances and were usually suspended from school. After discovering the studies on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the high school changed its approach to handling the students with kindness and in-school suspension versus automatic punitive punishments.
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.
In the documentary, Redford showcases the social and human side to ACEs rather than the science behind the approach to treating the children. He highlights the idea of ACEs while allowing the students to film their own lives, providing a more personal perspective on the effect of their traumas as well as their struggles, hopes, and dreams. It also demonstrates how teachers are helping the students change their lives in a positive way using new science and fresh methods. In addition, “Paper Tigers” provides insight into how others, such as family members and parents, can help children experiencing the negative impacts of ACEs.