More than just students are paying attention at Thurgood Marshall Learning Center in Rock Island.

Educators from regional and Midwest school districts will be attending a workshop on the trauma-informed approached taken by the school on Thursday.

The school said this serves an opportunity to spotlight how it reduces disciplinary actions and increases graduation rates.

Thurgood Marshall teacher Liz Kantner said, “What we can do is kind of recognized early on if the kid is coming in and kind of using the more survival part of their brain where they’re really stressed out. We’re able to approach that student with kindness and compassion and try to get them settled down before we need to do the coursework.”

The school has a student body of more than 100 in grades seven through 12.

That small population is part of the formula in a different approach to education.

It allows teachers to focus more of their attention on each student, who comes into the classrooms after struggling in a more traditional school.

Student Jerrion Jones said, “I wouldn’t say it’s easier. It’s the same amount of work, but it’s easier to deal with every day, mentally and physically.”

Jerrion Jones has been a student at Thurgood Marshall Learning Center for about two and a half years and has his sights set on graduation this spring. 
But before arriving at the school, education was falling by the wayside.

Jones said, “Wasn’t really good when it came to behavior and stuff like that and as I got older, I matured, but when I came to Thurgood, they helped me.”

Jones said he was looking for a change, which led him to Thurgood Marshall, and for his probation officer, it’s helping to improve more than just a report card.

Juvenile Probation Officer Kyle Carstens said, “He was motivated, looking at hey, when am I going to graduate, what do I need to do. I know he had courses to make up. Every time I came down here to visit him, he was in a good mood.”

For Jones and many other students, finding success at Thurgood is because of a different approach.
The school’s teachers and staff are trained in a method called “trauma-informed.”
In addition to helping students with reading, writing and arithmetic, teachers also address traumatic events, stresses and behavioral issues that can leave kids struggling.

2017 Graduate Karoli Nkurizehe said, “Teachers were always pushing me to do my work, pushing me to come to school every day so that just played a big a big part because every time somebody asks me where did you graduate, I’m not ashamed to say I graduated from Thurgood Marshall.”

The environment also feels less like a traditional school with a classroom that looks more like a lounge and smaller class sizes that allow teachers to provide more one-on-one time with students.

2017 Graduate Tiana O’Leary said,”I think my favorite thing is probably the teachers, they like joke with you and stuff, and they’re not like stern and strick and like hardcore. They’re like a friend but at the same time a teacher too.”

Tiana O’Leary’s mother said the extra mile the teachers take had gone a long way.

Tiana mother Ann O’Leary said, “Just wasn’t comfortable with school, just very low self-confidence and here they built that up and convinced her she could do it.”

For Jones, it’s an environment making success in education and a future possible.

Jones said, “I want to go to college, I just don’t know where and I don’t really know what I want to go for yet.”

The students said one thing they faced was a negative perception of the school by others. 

They said they were told students don’t get the help they need and it’s sometimes dangerous, but that’s not their experience.