Houlton Region

RSU 29 hosts guest speaker for back-to-school workshop

HOULTON, Maine — RSU 29 staff members participated in three days of workshops prior to the opening of school on Tuesday, Sept. 3. The Aug. 27 workshop included the introduction of new staff members, updates on policies and procedures and the viewing of pertinent videos pertaining to the workplace.

On Aug. 28, Brittany Ray was the guest speaker for the day. Ray is the director for TREE, Transforming Rural Experience in Education. The last day of workshops included presentations by school counsellors and preparing classrooms.

According to Ray, understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and how they impact behavior and learning is key to creating trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools. Becoming trauma informed, she explained, is not simply ‘a training’, but a true mindset shift that requires policy changes on many levels. 

Ray’s presentation serves as the starting point for any teachers, schools, parents, or community members interested in creating and supporting more trauma-informed school cultures. Participants learned about ACEs and the corresponding policy changes most needed in schools and communities in order for students to thrive.

“What we know from ACEs is that a trauma informed approach is needed in schools and that, without acknowledging and responding to the impact adversity has on developing brains and on social and emotional development, we will never close the achievement gap,” Ray said. “TREE is committed to ensuring that all people learn more about ACEs and promotes working together to create environments that foster healing and resilience in our schools.”

Ray was raised in Washington County and graduated from Narraguagus High School in 1989. She attended Colby College, where she majored in English and minored in education. In 1993, she graduated as Colby’s valedictorian. She then returned to Washington County to pursue her passion for education. She taught English at Machias Memorial High School and in 1995, she had the opportunity to return to her former high school to teach English, where she remained as a teacher and English Department Chair for 11 years.

In 2007, Ray was named Maine Teacher of the Year, becoming the first teacher to represent Washington County in more than 25 years. That same year, Ray transitioned from the classroom to administration, becoming Narraguagus High School’s Guidance Director/School Counselor. In 2009, Ray received her Master of Science degree in school counseling from Husson University.

Her experiences in the classroom and in school counseling fueled her desire for building relationships and developing strategies to help mitigate poverty-related barriers for her students. In her time as school counselor, she wrote, obtained, and administered a variety of grants linked to assisting students living in poverty.

In January 2016, Ray learned about the TREE initiative and said she knew it could be the key to helping those students experiencing the most adversity. She is now the Director of TREE, a division of the Cobscook Community Learning Center. TREE seeks to support schools and teachers in better understanding the impact of “toxic stress” on children and how adverse childhood experiences impact learning and behavior.

Ray resides in Milbridge with her husband, Ron Smith, and is the mother of four children.

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