Trauma and Learning Through the Director’s Lens: Paper Tigers

By Jane Crecco, MS, MEd, Training and Support Specialist – Recruitment, Training and Support Center

paper_tigersUsing compelling story telling and heart-wrenching true stories, James Redford takes the viewer inside the classrooms and halls of Lincoln High in Walla Walla, Washington for a close up look at how one high school has made a difference in the lives of six students. Steven, a student with intellectual potential and a number of adverse childhood experiences which include a substance-using mother, teeters between completely dropping out or going on to college. Kelsey – a beautiful young woman who has already overcome drug addiction only to become entangled in a problematic relationship with a fellow classmate. And handsome and talented Aron, whose anxiety does not allow him to speak or make eye contact with his peers or teachers.

Each student’s story is examined both in and out of the classroom. The film focuses on the personal lives of each young adult while the school tries various interventions to keep them on track to graduation. The principal of Lincoln High School, Jim Sporleder, explains early in the film, that the students can’t tell the difference between a real tiger and a “paper tiger” because their whole world is unpredictable and feels unsafe. He makes sure his teachers use kindness and empathy with every student, but especially those who are falling apart. In one emotional segment of the film, one of the students sends a series of angry and awful texts to his English teacher who responds with statements like – “I think you are going through a rough time; I understand you must be very angry; just know that I love you .” These teachers are allowed to take emotional risks with their students and in the end, the risks allow a big payoff. All six students graduate, one is off to college, and the teachers introduce each one with a litany of successes they achieved throughout the year.

The Recruitment, Training and Support Center partnered with Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School to present a showing of the film to teachers, students, parents, administrators, school committee members, and members of the Cambridge community. A panel discussion followed with many questions about how to move forward with a trauma informed approach. Several new initiatives are being introduced throughout the Cambridge Public Schools this fall.

The RTSC has scheduled several more free showings of the film, Paper Tigers, throughout the state over the next several months. Please visit for more information and to register for a viewing near you.