TREE: Transforming Rural Experience in Education

By Brittany Ray, TREE Director

  These students are learning through observing and exploring. It is active and allows for so much voice. It is social, emotional, and academic.

These students are learning through observing and exploring. It is active and allows for so much voice. It is social, emotional, and academic.

High School Literature Teacher, Literacy Coach, Special Education Teacher, English as a Second Language Teacher, and School Counselor. These were our titles, and our jobs in education were jobs that we loved. Together with my two TREE Resource Coaches, we have over 45 years’ experience in public education. When we get together, we can enthusiastically talk for hours about the wonderful students we have been privileged to work with over the years, and yet, we all left jobs that we loved to take a chance on something. Despite our passion for teaching and belief that we were making a difference, something was missing. That something was TREE.

Though each of our stories is different, we all remember the moment when we realized the critical importance of understanding adversity’s impact on the brain and on behavior and learning. Our lightbulbs didn’t just turn on, but rather, they surged with energy. Once we saw the hope that came with combining neuroscience with best practices in education, there was no turning back for us. With our three pilot schools here in Washington County there is so much excitement for the future. Two weeks ago, a principal in one of our schools stopped me and said, “I just want you to know that if someone had told me three years ago that TREE would be in our school initiating system changes in mental health, student and parent engagement, and student voice, I would have laughed. This is something special.”

We have long known that what happens outside of school greatly influences what happens in school, and yet, for decades the educational focus has remained on the traditional 3 R’s and the focus on testing has increased. With TREE, teachers, students, families, and communities are coming together in ways that provide opportunities and hope for addressing the many stressors which affect our schools. It is so exciting witnessing schools and communities working to translate science into everyday practice.  Teachers are moving from managing behavior to understanding students and how the brain works. By looking through this different lens which puts relationships at the center, TREE is supporting teachers, students, families, and communities to ensure that ALL voices are heard. With a commitment to putting human connection at the center and understanding the importance of creating space for difficult conversations and intentional reflection, Transforming Rural Experience in Education can foster enduring shifts in practice and policy. We believe TREE will leave a legacy of hope for public schools, not just here in Washington County, but in all of rural America.