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TWCable Part 2: LaSalle youth look to bright futures

Part two of Breaking the Cycle introduces you to two young men who are well into moving on from their past. One is a graduate of the LaSalle School, the other still has a couple years left. Katie Eastman explains how the LaSalle School helped these young men find another side of themselves. 

ALBANY, N.Y. — When you walk into Mike Falzano’s music classroom at the LaSalle School, there’s a chance you’ll hear a bluesy version of a Led Zeppelin song and you’d want to ask Jake Simmons, how did he get so good at guitar?

“I met Falzano and he was showing me all these really cool blues and jazz songs,” Simmons said.20151001_163247

Across the hallway in the Family and Consumer Sciences classroom, you’d want to ask Michael Bonilla-Soto for the recipe of the cake he named “Too Much Chocolate.”

“I love doing it because it makes people happy,” said Bonilla-Soto.

But the question you have could change when you learn that Jake and Michael were and are students at the LaSalle School in Albany, a residential treatment and education center for troubled boys. Now you might ask, what did they do to get here?

“When I came to LaSalle I had just attempted suicide,” said Simmons. 20151124_085426“I did something that I wasn’t supposed to do, and I regret it,” said Bonilla-Soto.

But if a question was ever wrong, that’s the one.

“And so it’s shifting from what has historically been a soft science into a hard science,” said David Wallace, the LaSalle School Director of Clinical Services.

Wallace is an expert in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, or ACEs, a study that asked more than 17,000 adults what happened to them growing up. The CDC and Kaiser Permanente found the people who experienced 3 out of 10 types of trauma as children were far more likely to have mental and medical disorders as an adult.20151123_114118

Instead of asking Jake and Michael what they did, Wallace asks what happened?

He says almost all of the 12 to 18-year-olds who live and go to class at LaSalle have experienced serious childhood trauma.

“But the neuroplasticity, the information we’re getting in neuroscience suggests that if we can identify those youth early enough and put the right sort of interventions, we can bend that curve and actually create an opportunity for healing and resilience, skill building and offset the damage typically associated with trauma and neglect,” said Wallace.

According to the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, high levels of toxic stress from enduring trauma hijacks the brain and puts a child in a constant state of fight or flight mode.

Every LaSalle staff member is trained to react to students actions in a way that won’t cause more toxic stress to flood the brain.

“We were all I think a little intimidated of Jake when we met him,” said the LaSalle music teacher, Mike Falzano. “He was a handful.”

“When I got here I hated it, but as I got older I started to realize all the good it was doing to me,” said Simmons, who’s now at Schenectady Community College studying music.

Michael came to LaSalle  from a juvenile detention center with a lot of anger, and he still remembers the advice his Family Consumer Science teacher gave him.

“What gets you here got you here and that’s in your past,” Bonilla-Soto said. “But what you do to get out of here will end up being in your future.”

Let’s change that question for Jake and Michael one last time- and ask – What will they do?

LaSalle School is a leader in programs and services for youth and families in crisis offering a variety of programs designed to meet their needs including specialized residential placement, day service education, and alternative to detention services. The Counseling Center at LaSalle is an OMH and OASAS licensed outpatient behavioral health clinic located at LaSalle School, and currently implementing ACE treatment practices with youth and families. LaSalle is accredited by the Council on Accreditation (COA), and affiliated with the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA), and the national Alliance for Strong Families and Communities.

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