Success for All Students

Recent research has shown that if by the end of third grade a child is not at reading level, they are at risk for not graduating high school. This is because in kindergarten through third grade a child is learning how to read. After that, they need to be able to read to learn. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma.

So why are some students not reading at grade level?

Studies site poor schools, lack of parental involvement, and poverty as the primary causes, because often many low-income children arrive at kindergarten without the language or social skills they need for learning. The critical piece I feel that isn’t being looked at is how childhood trauma and stress affects the developing brain and how the instability of economic challenges increases the likelihood of a child experiencing stress and trauma.

According to Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, “…it takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability. …” It also keeps the individual in the reactive mind, where no thinking takes place. It matters not whether trauma comes from interaction in the family of origin, with other students, gangs or predatory adults on the street, or some combination of the above.

According to Bruce Perry, MD, PhD and senior Fellow at Child Trauma Academy, and Bessel Van Der Kolk, when a child experiences significant trauma, healing needs to first take place in the brain stem, before higher cognitive and emotional learning can take place. This can happen with simple rhythmically attuned movements such as passing a ball back and forth, walking, biking, chi gong, tai chi or even scribbling, if approached in a reflective and rhythmic manner.

With this in mind, I think it is important to focus more attention on helping children, especially at-risk children, learn how to resolve and recover from trauma, restore balance, and learn to place their mind in a learning-ready state autonomously. Our overburdened educational system sadly tends to bypass this need for restoring balance and instead just tries to recruit the cognitive and emotional capacities of the mind. This unfortunately leads to more trauma, feelings of inadequacy, and lack of success.

Beyond trauma, another common classroom disrupter and hindering factor in the learning process is boredom. According to Professor Jackie Andrade of the School of Psychology, University of Plymouth, “If someone is doing a boring task, they may start to daydream,” “Daydreaming distracts them from the task, resulting in poorer performance. A simple task, like doodling (or scribbling), may be sufficient to stop daydreaming without affecting performance on the main task.”

In all of the pilot studies I have done, the I Create What I Believe (ICWIB) program has shown that using simple drawing and scribbling activities children can move from states of high anxiety to calmer, more receptive, cognitive states. In the process, they learn how to detect when their system is stressed and restore balance autonomously without disrupting the whole class. This can also lead to a reduction in behavioral problems and a marked improvement in learning and comprehension. (Middle School) (Head Start)

As we wind down the last three weeks of winter, it is a good time to envision what we want to give birth to in the spring. I offer the following invitation: If you are a teacher and would like to learn more about the ICWIB program and how to incorporate it into your classroom as a way to help your students experience more success, please contact me at:

My vision is to make the ICWIB program available to all teachers and all students.

We all are aware of the impact that early childhood experiences can have on one’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. I think finding simple and affordable solutions are critical for not only helping an individual child, but also to breaking the chain of generational poverty, and/or abuse. I personally know firsthand how childhood trauma can impact one’s cognitive, emotional, and physical health and well-being. This is the reason I have spent the last 40 years of my life developing tools and assisting both children and adults recover from their own childhood wreckage.

I am currently teaching the ICWIB program via Skype as a way to help make a difference in the lives of more of our youth today. I invite and encourage you to partner with me in this outreach for change.

If you would like to more fully explore the I Create What I Believe! Program, the following ICWIB activities are currently available on the website for free (just click the link to access an activity):

For more information about the I Create What I Believe! Global Classroom:

To schedule an I Create What I Believe! Introductory Presentation in your home, school, or community, contact Nancy Marie at:

To sign-up for the FREE I Create What I Believe! Newsletter:

For more information about the I Create What I Believe! program: