Mr. Baker’s School is Listening

Posted by Monica Hoel
Chilhowie High School Principal Rocky Baker (E&H ’85) is challenging his teaching staff to identify the needs of students and be a trauma informed school.

Chilhowie High School is now a Trauma Informed Care (TIC) school – and it is changing the lives of everyone involved.

Rocky Baker (E&H ’85) is principal at the school, and he and his assistant principal, Kelly Russell, have developed the program that is basically informing all aspects of life at the school. Rocky says he remembers the moment when he knew they needed to change how they approached education. “It was a ‘lightbulb moment;’ we were in a principal’s meeting in the summer of 2019 and heard a presentation on trauma and toxic stress among students and we recognized characteristics of our own students among the general statistics that were shared.”

The program is basically a mentor/mentee program where faculty members and administrators select a mentee with whom they will work throughout the school year. “We realize that students enter our building each day with traumatic events in their lives that negatively affect their ability to learn.  Teachers are beginning to develop a more personal relationship with these students that will hopefully develop trust and a sense of knowing that we are here not just to teach, but to play a more positive role in their lives. Teachers and administrators have taken students hunting, taken students to football games, done daily check-in and encouragement, offered the classroom as a safe place, and served as good listeners.”

And sometimes what a student needs most is fairly basic care and attention. Teachers also supply much-needed help with food, laundry services, and personal care. And the school community is working together to help with clothing needs. “We saw an obvious need that students needed more clothing items, so we have turned an unused classroom into a clothing closet with donated and purchased items. Students are allowed to visit this area and look for clothing items they are in need of. Much of what we are doing here is student-driven; our students wash clothes, set up the clothing closet and keep it stocked.”

Hygiene items are made available for anyone who might need them.The closet also provides personal hygiene items like shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. “All of our initiatives have been received by students and faculty in a positive way, and they help to replenish and distribute personal care items.  Our students deserve all the credit for seeing the needs of their peers and working to support them.”

Rocky says greater attention to personal relationships between students and teachers has made the staff of the school more aware of what the needs of students are; and now everyone is working together to try to meet those needs. “Having toxic stress and/or trauma, needing clothes that fit and are clean, and needing to be personally clean are all barriers to students being able to learn.  We are doing what we can to meet the basic human needs of our students so that we can allow them to be successful academically.”

Even though this is a new approach to education, Rocky credits his openness to a new way of approaching education to his student days at Emory & Henry. “I feel my overall education at Emory & Henry began to prepare me to see the needs of others and the importance of building relationships with students. Luckily, with the professionals I am surrounded by day after day, we all share the same vision.”

  • Chilhowie High School Vice Principal Kelly Russell and Principal Rocky Baker in the CHS clothes c...
    Chilhowie High School Vice Principal Kelly Russell and Principal Rocky Baker in the CHS clothes closet.
  • Hygiene items are made available for anyone who might need them.
    Hygiene items are made available for anyone who might need them.
  • Rocky Baker (E&H '85) heard a presentation on the effects of toxic stress, and he quickl...
    Rocky Baker (E&H '85) heard a presentation on the effects of toxic stress, and he quickly understood this was something his school needed to focus on.
“We are doing what we can to meet the basic human needs of our students so that we can allow them to be successful academically.”

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