Jen Soriano

Monthly Archive: October 2015

All Clear: Seattle’s First Trauma-Informed Public School

by Jen Soriano for Seattle Magazine

It’s a late spring morning at West Seattle Elementary and as usual, morale is running high. Counselor Laura Bermes high-fives students as they walk through the door. Principal Vicki Sacco greets teachers while cradling Bingo, her watchful Chihuahua. The children walk single file to their classrooms, and a bespectacled special guest bounds upstairs to talk to fifth-graders about their brains.

“Hi, everyone, I’m Ms. Natalie,” says the guest, waving at the students like the school celebrity that she is.

“You’re the brain lady!” exclaims an enthusiastic 11-year-old boy named D.J.

“That’s right, I’m the brain lady. I’m here to talk about feelings and how you can manage your feelings so you can learn.”

What follows is a dynamic 40-minute conversation in which Ms. Natalie (aka Natalie Turner) and the students discuss the biology of emotions in fifth-grade terms. They establish that it’s harder to learn when they feel angry, overexcited or sad. She tells them that it’s possible to know when their feelings are getting too big, and to make a choice to cool down so they can refocus on school.

Holding up her fist, Turner explains to them the hand model of the brain: Your thumb is the center of feelings; your palm is your “downstairs” brain, where you go to react; and your fingers wrapped around your thumb are your “upstairs brain,” where you can learn and make good decisions.

Turner wiggles her thumb and pops her four fingers open. “This is what happens when you have a big feeling that gets out of control,” she explains. “You flip your lid!”

All the students laugh and follow suit, flipping their four fingers up and displaying their “downstairs brains.” A few describe what flipping your lid means to them: screaming and slamming doors, eating too much, hitting yourself, committing suicide. Their examples hint at the intense struggles many of them face outside school.


To read the rest of the article, click here 

A Cold Kind of Beauty

Seattle in October has a cold kind of beauty.  But the cold is soft.  In a way it is kind and voluptuous.  A swaddling that’s a soothing followup to the encasing of a tropical womb.  Through the clarity of chilled air you can run your hands over the crisp textures of the horizon, and they will make the corners of your mouth turn up.  You pat the cotton candy of low-lying clouds tangled in tree branches and spilling over hills, and tap the toothy peaks of the now burning now ice cold Olympic mountains.  You slide your palms over the silver platter of Elliot Bay, serving up ponderous cargo ships that are the starch and staple of modern life.  These ships too have a cold kind of beauty, agents of a small world crossing time zones hemispheres and seasons, navigating nationless waters where only the laws of commerce apply.  Their faces are at once rusty relics and timeless symbols of this still new port city, once of wood and leather now of glass and digital gold.