Prevention & Early Intervention

Building Compassionate Schools



Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) include various forms of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.

Nearly 2/3 of people have had at least one of these experiences, and ½ of those have had 3 or more. Each additional ACE increases the likelihood of unhealthy behaviors and negative health outcomes.

Brains are built through experience.

The interaction between our biology and experiences shapes the chemicals and structures of our brains, particularly during early childhood and adolescence.

Physical health & mental health and well-being are intertwined.

When we experience physical illness, injury or pain it has a negative impact on our mental health and well-being. Improving our physical health can improve our mental health and well-being.

Positive relationships are central to mental health and well-being.

Relationships provide meaning and facilitate skill development and feelings of belonging. Lack of positive relationships and isolation are detrimental. Positive relationships are not automatic; families and communities need information, resources, and other supports to help cultivate and sustain them.

Where we live, learn, work, and play impacts our mental health and well-being.

This includes structures and environments that are safe, nurturing, inviting, toxin free, and facilitate relationships, community and culture.

Fear, trauma, and chronic stress negatively impacts mental health and well-being.

While we all experience stress and hard times, the cumulative impact of chronic or intense stress is real. It gets built into our bodies and is passed on to the next generation.

Everyone needs opportunity to learn and practice skills to manage life and engage in the world.

Skills to manage stress, find balance and focus, and engage socially, are critical components that should be cultivated throughout the lifespan in both formal and informal settings. Skills and experiences that help people feel valuable and engage in their family, community and economy are also critical.

Building Compassionate Schools to Help Children Thrive

In 2017, teams of building administrators, teachers, counselors, social workers, and behaviorists from sixteen participating schools as well as two after school organizations began a six month pilot series to improve their trauma sensitive practices. The teams met every two months for a training session. On the off months the teams met to complete a school self assessment and to develop an action plan with measurable outcomes for the following school year.


ReThink collaborated with education and school counseling instructors from North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead, Concordia College, and Valley City State University to provide facilitation to the school workgroups.

“Building Compassionate schools training provides our staff an understanding of the traumatic experiences of our students and how those experiences can impact their school day.  It provides our staff with the tools to support the students socially, emotionally and academically.”

Brad Franklin

Principal, Jefferson Elementary

The value of a multi-district training series has been invaluable, beyond the important content that is being taught. The ability to interact and learn from other districts has been invaluable. It would not have happened without ReThink.

Dr. Grosz

Assistant Superintendent, Fargo Public Schools

Example from the Field

Eagles Elementary, Fargo ND

As a result of attending the Building Compassionate Schools (BCS), Eagles Elementary in Fargo, ND took steps towards changing their school culture by actively engaging the rest of their staff. One of the key takeaways from training #3 on social and emotional learning was that for building-level change to occur, staff needed to understand the “why” for the change. Throughout the training series, Eagles staff had been intentional about bringing back what they had learned from each session via newsletters, staff meetings, etc. What they did after session #3 was especially impressive. Their BCS team members collectively interviewed every staff person (e.g. teacher, custodian, lunch staff) and compiled detailed data about who their students were and what their life experiences were. From that they created a professionally made video of their story. They felt it was very important that all staff new and understood their “story” in order to be an active participant in building a more compassionate school.



To promote trauma sensitive schools where children can build caring relationships, self-regulate their emotions, and build resilience to thrive no matter their life circumstances.


Eighteen teams completed year one of the trauma sensitive schools pilot. All teams committed to participating in year two, and fifteen new schools will begin the year one training in 2018.

Mental Health Intervention Spectrum

Image source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration


Questions or want to get involved?

Mental Well-Being

“The People Project” is bringing simple tools to individuals and organizations so communities can flourish by promoting health through happiness                        


“Building Compassionate Schools” to recognize the impacts of trauma and create an environment where all children can flourish.

Crisis & Treatment

Boosting the community-wide use of a common suicide screening tool to identify those at risk and to connect them with timely and appropriate care.

Recovery Support

Host quarterly “Recovery Roundups” to share knowledge of resources and to promote partnerships and networks that support a life in recovery