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Partnership teaches Southern Illinois schools to respond to trauma

MURPHYSBORO — William Moore knows first-hand how a traumatic family life can impact the education of a child. He and Murphysboro Middle School are part of Resilient Southern Illinois 2018.

Resilient Southern Illinois is a partnership among The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children, Illinois Education Association and Partnership for Resilience, along with 16 Southern Illinois school districts, working to support students dealing with childhood trauma or experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACES).

“Together, we are working as a community to help improve students’ lives,” Mary Jane Morris, IEA director of teaching and learning, said. “It is so important to educate the whole child, and through this program, we are making sure that’s happening across Southern Illinois. We are building strong students, strong schools and strong communities.”

The program to build trauma-sensitive schools began in 2015 in three high-need, low-resource districts. Early results showed referrals decreased by 72 percent, suspensions decreased by 79 percent and detentions decreased by 87 percent. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade made significant gains in English and math.

The program began with a three-day training for teachers in June to discuss effects of toxic stress on students, identify stressors and issues, and offer strategies for teachers as they assist traumatized students.

One of the teachers in that training was William Moore, eighth grade social studies teacher at Murphysboro Middle School. One of his tactics is to help relieve stress and build relationships with students while teaching them to empathize with one another.

Eighth graders in Moore’s classes got a break from regular classroom activities a couple days before Christmas break. Instead, they had a “snowball” fight and created paper plate art.

Marilyn Halstead / MARILYN HALSTEAD The Southern Illinoisan 

Isabelle shows her art project, a three-dimensional Christmas tree, to her friends at Murphysboro Middle School. 

No, Moore did not import snow from a frozen areas of the country or use the fake snowballs sold in snowball fight kits.

First, he asked students to write a Christmas wish, or just a wish for those who do not celebrate Christmas, on a piece of paper without writing their names on the papers. When the wishes were written, Moore explained how the snowball fight would work.

Students would wad their papers into “snowballs.” Then, the class was divided into two groups for a five to seven-minute snowball fight. After the snowballs had crossed the room enough to mix them up and make sure no one knew whose snowball he or she was holding, Moore asked the students to read the wishes.

Sure, some of the wishes ranged from the latest shoes to Nintendo Switch, cookies and Christmas socks, but others wished for a good 2019 or that school was less stressful, or for more time with family and friends.

A few wishes put into perspective the lives of some students, like no family fights, that mom would continue to be able to live on her own, to see a brother not seen for five years, that great-grandma was still alive or for a student and his or her mother to be able to like each other.

Marilyn Halstead / MARILYN HALSTEAD The Southern Illinoisan 

Teacher William Moore helps students with holiday art projects Dec. 20 at Murphysboro Middle School. 

“Part of the reason we do that is to let students see there are people in our own classroom wishing for things that are not Nintendo or X-Box,” Moore said. “Everyone’s life is a little different. Go to the hallway. You never know when somebody just needs a little love.”

After the snowball fight, the students did an art activity, turning paper plates to Christmas or winter-themed art.

Students Haiden and Isabelle say Moore is a favorite among their friends.

“Mr. Moore straight-up helps me and chooses to be my friend,” Haiden said.

The 13-year-old has experienced trauma and is a victim of bullying.

“We come in here and actually learn and in here we do this kind of stuff,” Isabelle said.

She added that she has never heard one kid say anything negative about Moore.

“He cares about our feelings and talks to us,” Isabelle said.

As a part of Resilient Southern Illinois 2018, Moore is learning how to respond to the trauma his students face in hopes of making them more resilient.

“We teachers sometimes get so focused on teaching standards that we forget we’re teaching students,” Moore said.

He said students often go home and care for themselves and younger siblings, then come back to school without their homework. He told a story of one student who slept on the front porch of a home because he or she was scared to sleep inside. Another student who lives near the middle school gets up extra early to walk to Murphysboro High School to avoid bullying that takes place on the school bus.

Unless a teacher takes the time to get to know his or her students, Moore said they would never know this is what the lives of their students look like.

“Project Resilient Southern Illinois most of all stresses communicating with students,” Moore said.

The project also did something for Moore personally. It gave him a way to share his own story of trauma.

Moore never met his biological father growing up. His mother had five children with a total of four fathers. His stepdad had a drinking problem and was abusive.

“I remember when I was in the third grade, there was a 2 a.m. bust in our house. The people upstairs called the police,” Moore said.

His fifth grade year, his family spent Christmas in a women’s shelter.

Then, the summer before his seventh grade year, he ran away from home.

“As the oldest, I took most of the violence. Leaving them was hard for me,” Moore said. “They felt abandoned.”

Moore became the seventh grade class clown. When he got to eighth grade, the teachers were waiting for him. He spent most of that year at a desk next to the assistant principal.

“I got to high school, and the trouble I got into was a lot different,” Moore said.

He skipped school, then would be suspended for skipping school. When the suspension was over, the cycle started again. He was kicked out of three schools, two of which were alternative programs. He ended high school earning a total of 2.5 credits.

“The last principal said, ‘school’s not a place for you’,” Moore said. “Grandma cried. It was heartbreaking. If school’s not a place for me, she knew where was.”

Moore did a lot of things during the next four years. One of them was meeting the girl who would become his wife. When she gave birth to their daughter in March 1997, Moore realized that baby would be affected by what he became.

He took the GED test and passed it. After a series of sales, restaurant and factory jobs, Moore started taking classes at Richland Community College for sales and marketing. The first class was Economics 231, and he had no clue what it meant.

When he looked at his life and the people who influenced him, he thought of his fifth grade teacher Sheila Myers. She treated him fairly, bought him Burger King. She cared for him even on days he misbehaved.

“When I was standing at Richland Community College wondering what I was going to do, she popped into my head. My dream, goal, vision became clear. I wanted to be somebody’s hero,” Moore said.

After finishing at Richland, Moore went on to major in education at Southern Illinois University. He was assigned to student teach at Sesser-Valier in the classroom of Dennis Overturf.

“Had I not met Mr. O, I wouldn’t have gotten the job here (at Murphysboro Middle School),” Moore said.

When the school started the resilience program earlier this school year, Moore had never shared any part of his story with his colleagues.

“When the program started, it spoke to me because I know that being a kid’s hero not only changes lives, but it also changes their kid’s lives,” Moore said. “I want to be hope for students to know that what they have lived through is not the truth. If I am only able to reach one person, I want to become hope for that one kid who needs it.”

Other school districts in Resilient Southern Illinois 2018 include: Du Quoin, Eldorado, Gallatin County, Giant City, Grayville, Harrisburg, Herrin, Johnston City, Sparta, Trico, Unity Point, Vienna Elementary, Vienna High School, ROE21 Project Echo and Tri-County Special Education Services.


Salukis shut down Panthers late for 58-51 victory at Northern Iowa. Sports, Page B1. 

Alex Brandon, Associated Press 

From left, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence talk Saturday as they leave the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex.

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New federal law aims to improve access to dental care in struggling communities

The Action for Dental Health law signed by the president last month is like the dental floss of federal initiatives: designed to reach those hard-to-reach people and places. Communities throughout Southern Illinois stand to benefit as the law specifically targets the advance of dental health care in struggling rural and urban communities, experts say.

“I think you’ll see more programs develop out of that, allowing for more care in rural and other underserved areas,” said Dave Marsh, director of government affairs for the Illinois State Dental Society.

Marsh said dentists in Illinois have made great strides in bringing programs to underserved areas with mobile dentistry vans and in-school screening and preventative programs. But many families still face barriers to affordable care.

The new law has the potential to expand existing programs and allow states to come up with innovative new ideas to improve access and education, Marsh added.

According to the American Dental Association, the new law enables the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to award grants and enter into collaborative agreements with states and other partners to develop programs to that end. 

There has been little federal funding made available for these initiatives in the past. The law is intended to bolster support for programs that reduce the use of emergency rooms for dental care and help patients establish “dental homes” so that they have a regular provider to turn to for preventative or emergency care. Programs that reduce language and cultural barriers to dental care, and improve access by nursing home residents, are also prioritized in the new law.

As Southern Illinois’ population ages, access to dental care for seniors is a growing concern, as Medicare does not cover routine dental services. Coverage under Medicaid, for individuals who qualify based on income, also is extremely limited, said Ryan Gruenenfelder, director of advocacy and outreach for AARP Illinois.

Older Americans, he noted, need dental care as much or more than younger populations. The aging process results in enamel wearing away, making teeth susceptible to damage and decay. Furthermore, a recent AARP nationwide poll found that nearly a third of Americans aged 50 to 64 lacked dental coverage, and many are forgoing routine dental health care as a result prior to reaching the age of Medicare eligibility.

Young children whose families cannot afford dental care, or who may face additional barriers to accessing it, also are vulnerable, said Dr. Katie Kosten, director of community dentistry and assistant professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine, based in Alton. “For me, it’s two-pronged,” she said. “Opening up access is great, but it also requires real, thoughtful effort and support from the providers.” Other barriers to care may include transportation and child care issues, or a lack of education about the importance of dental health, she said.  

Though many dentists offer discount rates to low-income patients and volunteer their time at free clinics, it’s not enough to close the resource gap. For children who participate in Medicaid, the reimbursement rate in Illinois is so low for dental services that families struggle to find offices willing to provide care. That’s especially true if children have complex dental problems requiring general anesthesia to correct, Kosten said. Only a handful of clinics in the entire state provide that service to children, and the wait can stretch for months. For the SIU School of Dental Medicine, the wait is close to two years.

On Jan. 1, a new Illinois law also became effective regarding dental screenings for children. It requires that children visit a dentist prior to entering ninth grade. This expands the existing requirement for children to have dental screenings prior to entering kindergarten, second and sixth grades.

Illinois Democrats have control - can they get work done?

SPRINGFIELD— The Illinois General Assembly convenes next week, ushering in the Prairie State's third century with historic numbers of Democrats running the show and pent-up demand for action.

Can they get any work done?

Democrats have not surrendered control of either chamber of the Legislature for more than 15 years, but progress has been overshadowed by scandals that sent two successive governors to federal prison, backed-up bills and a long-overdue pension debt coming home to roost, and, in the past four years, ideological stalemate with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, which stalled even a basic annual spending plan for two years running .

On the heels of Illinois' bicentennial last month comes Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker with promises of a revamped and fairer income-tax structure, a capital construction plan to bolster roads and bridges, legalized marijuana use to help pay for it, and a boost in the minimum wage.

Backing him are history-making Democratic majorities. In the past 140 years, as a percentage, the Democrats' 74-44 control of the House is second only to the 118-59 edge they held when the House was bigger from 1965 to 1967, after a failed attempt at reapportionment forced every house member to be elected statewide on the now-notorious "bedsheet ballot."

The Senate seats 40 Democrats to 19 Republicans, matching their 2013-2015 count and next in percentage only to its Great Depression-era 1935-to-1937 majority.

Such concentrated power holds pitfalls. Republicans are already blanketing the majority with the derisive tax-and-spend mantle. Or things might go nowhere. Illinois Democrats are a diaspora of issues, ideas, beliefs and cultures.

"I suggest that Gov. Pritzker come in with four or five important initiatives, moderate in nature, which can succeed," said Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat beginning his sixth term. "We've had a turbulent eight years and if we focus on small successes, they can translate into big successes in the long run."

That might be the plan before the 101st General Assembly is even sworn in on Wednesday. The lame-duck 100th assembly will be in Monday and Tuesday. A note to House Democrats instructs them to be in Springfield for action on "the items being requested by the governor-elect."

Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said only that Pritzker "is working with lawmakers to introduce good-governance legislation to move forward on key priorities" as soon as next week.

Michael Madigan, the Chicago Democrat who has served longer as a state House speaker than anyone else in U.S. history, could be in a mood to reward Pritzker. Pritzker stood by Madigan, who's held the House gavel for all but two years since 1983, last spring while other Democratic primary opponents criticized Madigan's handling of sexual harassment complaints among staff members and even called for him to step aside.

And Madigan is no worse for the wear after four years of withering criticism from Rauner as a corrupt machine politician whose self-interest tops the public interest. Madigan might be less popular, but he's in a position that doesn't require popularity, said Andrew Civettini, a political scientist at Knox College in Galesburg. Pritzker can take advantage of that.

"He can take credit for doing what he promised, but if it doesn't come out the way he intended, he can say, 'Here's what I wanted, but my hands are tied by this Legislature," Civettini said. "It's a little bit of insurance for the governor."

Pritzker has breathing room. The graduated income tax, which would require voters to change the Constitution, will take years. But the fiscal picture is stable, despite remaining mountains of debt. The governor's office estimated last fall that revenue could fall $500 million short at the end of the fiscal year, but that was before a December report showing state revenue coming in at a rate 10 percent ahead of the previous year.

Madigan is on board with legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, which Pritzker estimates could bring in $700 million to $1 billion in state revenue. Lawmakers previously approved a gradual increase in the minimum wage to $15 by 2022, but Pritzker has replaced the governor who vetoed it.

And it's been a decade since approval of a capital construction plan with roads, bridges and schools crumbling. Sen. Cristina Castro, the Elgin Democrat who is vice chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, said discussions are under way but she predicts no quick remedies, either.

"I tell people, 'We're on the right path, but have patience,'" Castro said. "It's easier to destroy than to fix."

Manuel Balce Ceneta