Chapel Hill’s Phoenix Academy is an alternative school that is reimagining the ways to work with students that may experience more traumas than others outside of school.

John Williams, Phoenix Academy’s Principal who was named Chapel Hill/Carrboro’s Principal of the Year, says that the school’s focus on “equity in practice” is a catalyst for closing the achievement gap that many high schools experience.

“Too many times we hear people talk about equity, but for us, equity is an action verb,” says Williams. “It means actually putting things to work, and in order to close the achievement gap it takes more than talking about equity, it requires you to use equity in the work that you’re doing.”

It is Phoenix Academy’s drive to level the playing field for their students that has led them to be considered a “trauma informed school”.

The method that Williams and Phoenix’s social worker Gloria Sanchez-Lane have adopted to help students cope with these traumas is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a cognitive behavioral treatment that works to build mindfulness and emotion regulation.

“Dialectical Behavioral Therapy really focuses on the student recognizing, ‘I’m starting to get upset, what is causing me to be upset? What is the outside source?’ Or is it something that they are reliving, a previous trauma or something that is triggering this?” said Sanchez-Lane.

Phoenix Academy was recently named an Exemplary School by PBIS, which stands for Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports.