Stan Harville is not one to rest on the laurels of his more than 30-year career in education. In fact, he is taking the cumulative experience of working with children in both classroom and administrative roles to the next level.
In his role of executive director with HC*EXCELL, Hamblen County’s education foundation, Harville has a keen focus on improving the learning process for students, an effort that begins at an earlier age than educators previously thought necessary.
After extensive training and research with the Tennessee Commission on Youth’s Building Strong Brains initiative, specifically with its course, “The Role of Life Experiences in Shaping Brain Development,” Harville was convinced that understanding ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) is vital to nurturing children and youth into adulthood — and not only through the education system, but in other facets of their life experiences as well.
“We started hearing about ACEs whenever our Ready by 6 initiative was formed,” Harville said. “We began to look at the mitigating factors of kids not being ready to start school.”
According to Harville, ACEs-related training has been available for around 10 years; the research on the subject goes back further.
“It’s been mind-boggling what we’ve learned,” Harville said. “We knew a little bit about how kids learn, including that factors from birth to age 3 will affect them; between those ages is when 80 percent of brain architecture is formed.”
Information gained from ACEs training includes that adverse circumstances (drinking and smoking in the home, family homelessness, abuse between parents or inflicted on siblings, to name a few) can affect a child from pre-birth through three years and beyond.
“All these things follow them,” Harville said, “even if they build resilience to the trauma later in life.”
Educators can be trained to identify and react with positive support to ACEs, but schools are not the first stop on the road to an individuals’ healthy growth.
“If we wait, we’re behind,” Harville said. “The school system is working uphill. We need to find a way for parents to understand that they are their children’s’ first teachers.”
HC*EXCELL’s goal is to work with local industrial partners to help research and implement trauma-informed policies in the workplace.
“People are growing up with alcoholism in the home, incarceration and mental health issues – we know there is a widespread problem,” Harville said.
Harville is available to make presentations and conduct training for businesses, organizations and industries. His recent presentation, his 12th, at a Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce Lunch & Learn was well-attended by representatives of a variety of local entities. He has conducted large training sessions, including with the Boys & Girls Club of Dumplin Valley.
“I’d like to get more industry people involved and open their eyes as to what is causing absenteeism,” he said.
After receiving education and training, Harville described participants as “trauma informed,” and ready to put practices into play at facilities like schools, M.A.T.S. and Hamblen County Central Services.
Harville’s previous training with the state, taken when he served as a principal via a no-bullying initiative, taught him he was actually the biggest bully in the school by showing him he had power over individuals, just by his position. The ACEs training opened his eyes even wider.
“I would have handled kids differently. Instead of asking them, ‘Why didn’t you have your homework?’ I would have considered their circumstances: mom and dad may have had a knock-down, drag out and that student is afraid to tell anyone. You have to form relationships and change from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What’s happened to you?’ There can be underlying trauma – no matter, if they are elementary, middle or high school students.”
ACEs statistics are stark in nature: the cost to the state is billions per year in expenditures for related symptoms, including alcoholism and drug addiction.
HC*EXELL is planning through its Ready by Six initiative, a community forum made up of area mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, healthcare representatives and other stakeholders to discuss the issue and training.
“Money is not the biggest issue to implementing this,” Harville said. “There are practical trainings we can put into place.”
He cited Johnson City’s “Handle with Care” initiative that involves police and other authorities notifying school staff when a child is involved in a domestic violence or other traumatic event.
“They make a call to the school and simply say, ‘Hey, John Doe: handle with care.’ There are no specific details shared about the situation, but the school knows what’s going on. So if there is an incident with a student, the staff can say, ‘We’re going to understand where that’s coming from,’” Harville said.
Harville began his teaching career in 1981 with Hamblen County Schools and continued his work in education for more than 30 years. He has served as the executive director of HC*EXCELL since 2017.
For more information about HC*EXCELL and ACEs, visit www.hcexell.org.