A Second Chance

                                  Actual student not pictured

                                  Actual student not pictured

Mateo first came to our counseling program as a 14-year-old. He presented as scared and withdrawn, but always extremely respectful. He was very careful with how forthcoming he was. The Director of Attendance and Welfare for the Sequoia Union High School District referred Mateo because he was involved in a felony case back in 7th grade. Despite his efforts in transitioning into mainstream high school, he was still being consumed by the court system, probation, immigration issues and strained familial dynamics due to the case. It was clear that he was experiencing difficulty leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression and complex trauma; however, he shared very little.

He came to session every week, but remained on the surface for months. He initially seemed to be in our voluntary program because he needed to be, as if he was involved due to fear of being reprimanded rather than to gain support and/or work on himself. Yet, Mateo would eventually complete four years of voluntary treatment. He was beginning to learn to trust again through the relationship with his therapist.

By the time Mateo was a senior in high school, he was a young man who had grown (physically, mentally and emotionally) into a model student, friend and son. He had successfully completed all probation requirements, built strong relationships and gained trust within his family again. He spoke of high hopes for his future with a gleeful and confident demeanor.

Mateo learned that trust and relationships are crucial in building a strong sense of self. He learned that we are all entitled to mistakes, but it is what you make of them that count. Mateo became focused on the positive aspects of life rather than the adversities. He utilized his traumatic experiences to catapult him into completing high school, creating strong relationships, applying to college and working toward to an EMT career where he could help “give back.”

During his final session with his therapist of four years, Mateo cried (no longer withdrawn), hugged (was able to trust again) and thanked her for her help and for being available (healthy sense of receiving support and having had it make a difference). He shared how he resonated with an injured eagle – he too felt trapped, in pain and out of control at one time. It was caring people, like those at Acknowledge Alliance that helped him see he deserved to be successful, happy and could have a second chance.

Julio's Story

                                                                                                                        Actual student not pictured

                                                                                                                        Actual student not pictured

Julio, a 16-year old male, was referred to Acknowledge Alliance for therapy services while in Juvenile Hall. Even though this was not Julio’s first time in Juvenile Hall, he was very worried about his upcoming court date, felt trapped in his cell and missed his family.

At the onset of his therapy, Julio was very anxious, and thought about himself in very concrete ways. He did not consider any of his habits harmful to himself or others, though he drank, smoked, and got into physical altercations with friends, some leading to bodily injuries. However, over the course of his therapy sessions, Julio learned to allow himself to feel his emotions and express them in words. He was also given the opportunity to share and reflect on traumatic events he had experienced and witnessed.

Ultimately, Julio took responsibility for his actions and conveyed this in court in a genuine manner. He is now able to control his impulses; he no longer fights, even in situations where he felt he had been offended by someone. Julio was able to return to his mainstream school, and is motivated to succeed in his academic work.


One of the primary goals of our counseling services is to keep students enrolled in school so that they can work towards eventual high school graduation.

School connectedness contributes to student retention and dropout prevention. It is positively correlated to healthy self-esteem, self-efficacy, optimism and positive peer relationships, and is negatively related to the development of conduct problems, antisocial behavior, depression, anxiety, emotional distress and suicidality.

Students who are often at-risk face greater challenges in feeling connected to their schools because they have been disconnected from the traditional school system. Despite these challenges, however, Acknowledge Alliance helps students re-establish connections to their schools through caring adults and other meaningful connections.

The Resilience Board

As a Resilience Consultant, I meet with teachers and administrators to offer classroom support. We work directly together to create a healthy positive school environment. I also support teachers around how they’re affected or impacted professionally and/or personally.

Last year at Beechwood School, there was a devastating fire that destroyed one portable building, which included a 3rd grade classroom. This teacher was directly affected on a professional and personal level by the abrupt loss and quick adjustment that was required in order to begin class again the following week. The practical and physical recovery of her classroom space in starting out in a new room with limited supplies, to organizing lost learning materials, to supporting her students’ grieving process, to the more implicit and personal recovery process of her own in losing countless memories and teaching tools, was a process that ensued for the remainder of the year.

Recently, this teacher showed me an ongoing project that she had started doing with her class. I was in awe by her creative, meaningful, and impactful way to foster resilience in the classroom.

The Resilience Board she created  is used to introduce terms such as “Resilient,” “Tenaciousness,” and “Be Gentle.” To help her students build a language of real life experience around abstract terms, she has them think about situations where they have personally used these skills. She then encourages them to share their reflections with the class.

By creating a safe place for learning and classroom exchange, students are given the chance to connect these concepts to their own lives in a way they can actually understand and relate to. It also helps them build empathy and resonate with their peers as they learn from one another.

For example, her class worked together on breaking down the barriers of having to get things right the first time. They shared their experiences and acknowledged in the end that it’s okay to make mistakes. This shifted the conversation from a “bad thing” to a much more positive understanding and acceptance.

 

She weaves in and shares her own personal and present examples where she made a mistake, which again offers great learning opportunity. She provides her students with the opportunity to witness an adult role model. An adult in front of them is sharing and acknowledge mistakes, too, and talking about her feelings. This helps further normalize mistakes and the ability to bounce back.

This project certainly connected to what she learned from her and her students’ experiences from last year.  She mentioned that without the “behind the scenes” support that she received, she wouldn’t have been able to get to this point of using this past traumatic experience as a learning opportunity and a bridge for her students’ to learn from their mistakes, from negative things occurring, from persevering, and so on.

Fostering resilience in the classroom increases children’s social and academic competence and motivates them to be active learners. By creating daily opportunities for children to develop and practice resilience-related behaviors, we are equipping them with essential tools they can use to overcome any challenges they may face in the future.

What are ways that you foster resilience in your classroom?

Chris Chiochios
Resilience Consultant

A Thank You Note

The end of the school year was filled with many celebrations, friendships, and reflections of growth.

A student expressed her gratitude to our staff member and shared what she learned from our social emotional learning curriculum, also known as Project Resilience.

When students learn to effectively communicate their feelings and when educators start to actively address emotions with empathy, positive transformation occurs. We are so proud of all our schools for how much they have blossomed this year!

We see the value in each student and educator we work with from the first day we meet them. It is extraordinarily powerful when they, too, begin to believe in themselves and create a life filled with meaning.

Theresa's Story

The following was written by Judith Gable, MSW, LCSW, from “Unlikely Transformations: Kids in Prison and the Clinical Psychotherapy Interns We Train to Work with Them.” Judith wrote an article describing how Acknowledge mental health professionals teach our clinical interns to work with and meet the needs of traumatized youth. 


Theresa’s mom had recently overdosed on heroin. Her dad had a second family in Texas, so she was living in her fifth foster home when she was arrested and taken to juvenile hall after she pulled a knife on a teacher at school. In juvenile hall, Theresa continually provoked teachers and peers with “f-you” and “I’ll kick your ass.”

In therapy, Theresa only wanted to talk about her boyfriend. She was terrified that he would leave her while she was in juvenile hall. At the same time, she cavalierly talked about the ways the boyfriend kept her from her family and friends, and punched her when she tried to assert herself. The intern never judged Theresa or this relationship. Instead, this therapist helped her explore her feelings and her experiences in this and other relationships. 

Theresa pushed and pulled the therapist, continually testing whether the intern actually cared about her. She refused appointments, told stories of her fights on the unit, and defiantly showed the therapist tattoos she’d scratched into her arms in her cell. The intern honored Theresa’s struggles, and continued to come back week after week, curious and compassionate. Eventually, Theresa was able to talk about the pain of a lifetime of feeling unworthy and unlovable.

With her body shifting in her chair, and her foot tapping anxiously, she shared her growing wish to have a boyfriend who would treat her well. She shared her fears that her little sister was making the same mistakes she had, and how she wished she could do something to stop it. She talked about wanting to do better in school, and maybe even become a nurse.  She cried.

The therapist helped Theresa bring forth the softer parts of herself she kept hidden, pointing out the ways in which Theresa cared deeply for other people. In the safety of their relationship, Theresa began to blossom. She started trusting a teacher she said was “cool”, and shared the poetry she’d written. She smiled when she talked about working in the school garden with the volunteer who came each week. 

                                                                    Actual student not pictured

                                                                    Actual student not pictured

With a growing sense that people could actually care about her, and a budding ability to see herself as someone valuable, she began to question her relationship with her boyfriend and made moves to disengage from him. Significant growth rarely moves in straight lines, so Theresa broke up and got back together with the boyfriend 3 times during her time of being incarcerated. But, by April, she was done with him, and made a promise to herself to stay away from guys for awhile, build her self confidence, earn more school credits, and show her sister a different path.

Theresa’s story is not a story of radical behavioral change. She still occasionally picked fights with girls who disrespected her, and dropped the f-bomb with teachers she didn’t like. However, the shifts that Theresa was able to make in the short time she was in therapy, had a deep impact on the foundation of her sense of self. Her experience in therapy showed her a glimpse of the positive experiences she could start to expect from the world.