The ACE Effect

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include experiences such as mental illness, parental divorce and child maltreatment. ACEs can impact physical health, potentially causing issues including heart disease, arthritis and various types of cancer, as well as mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. Due to the impact ACEs have on mental health, ACEs have a great impact on students’ academic performance.

ACEs Impact on School Performance

Despite years of concerted efforts at school reform, in developing effective models of teaching, training teachers and creating healthy school environments, we are still losing ground. We are losing ground because of the damaging effects of child maltreatment on the ability of our children to attend to the demands of learning.

We can replace all teachers and principals, purchase all new books, introduce the most up-to-date curricula, repair all of the school buildings and we’ll still be faced with the problem, which arrives each morning inside the stressed minds of our youth. Yes, schools should focus on math, science, history and language arts, but we are faced with a population-wide challenge that is crippling our success.

The negative effects of ACEs lead to deficits in attention, learning and retrieval, language and communication skills and memory recall, thus effecting students’ academic performance and social skills. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of ACEs one has experienced has a direct correlation to the education level one achieves.

New School Subject: Toxic Stress

We need to address toxic stress in our students, and a series of lectures will not do it.  We need to address trauma head-on by asking our children about their experiences. We need to teach them that physical and mental abuse is unacceptable, and not the norm. By addressing trauma in a hands-on way, we will see significant improvement in the academic performance of our students, and a reduction in the achievement gap between low and high-income families.