What are trauma-informed schools?
Trauma-informed schools are places that provide safe and supportive environments for children to learn and educators to work. They infuse the science about trauma and its impacts into daily practice, program design, policy creation and implementation, and the culture of the school. A trauma-informed school is not simply a school where staff know about trauma, or a school where there is a therapeutic classroom or additional counseling staff. A trauma-informed school fundamentally has changed the way it works to promote healthy, resilient educators and learners capable of disrupting the cycle of trauma in their lives and communities and creating more equitable outcomes.
A trauma-informed journey is best understood as a “through line” to all other programs, practices, and policies. Trauma-informed should not feel like another program to implement, but rather a fundamental shift in HOW programs are implemented. This applies to not only other social-emotional efforts, but also to instruction, parent engagement, and staff well-being.
A school that only addresses the impact of trauma on students will struggle with staff burnout, turnover, and compassion fatigue. The science around trauma is clear: the most powerful resource for young people is a supportive, unwavering relationship with an adult. Adults in schools must be capable of being unwavering supports for students. This means addressing the vicarious and secondary trauma experienced by staff-not as an afterthought, but as a focal point of the trauma-informed journey.
What is Alive and Well Communities doing?
Across the state of Missouri, Alive and Well is providing training, technical assistance, and intensive coaching to educators on the trauma-informed journey. Schools are trying innovative techniques to support their staff, students, and community, including:
Universal Trauma Training: Several school districts have or are in the process of completing baseline training with all staff in the district, including teachers, support staff, transportation, food service, administrators, board, etc.
Community Building Practices: Schools are spending more time on proactively building community through morning meetings, community circles, and intentional culture building. This helps students increase their feelings of safety and belonging.
Prioritizing Staff Needs: Schools are working to create changes big and small to support the health and well-being of staff. Some examples include creating a quiet or cool down space just for staff members; allowing teachers to take a break as needed throughout the day to meet biological needs or cool-down through the help of support staff; and providing education about and referrals to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).
Changing Discipline: Schools are trying several things to change their discipline approach to better align with the science of trauma, including the use of restorative practices, reducing suspensions, and changing ISS programs to focus on reflection and social and behavioral skill building rather than punitive responses.
Creating Space to Regulate: Many schools are creating sensory, calming, or cool-down spaces that students can opt into to allow them to regulate their emotions and behaviors and return to the classroom ready to learn.
Connecting Community: Schools on the trauma-informed journey are also working to better engage parents by providing them with education about trauma and self-care, involving them in decision-making processes, and addressing their approaches to parent engagement to create more opportunities for positive relationship building.
In 2017, Alive and Well formed an Educational Leaders Work Group in St. Louis to:
1) Identify and disseminate best practices from advancing trauma-informed practices in schools
2) Promote shared metrics and data gathering on the advancement of trauma-informed schools in the region
3) Host bi-annual events, open to the public, to promote regional learning on key trauma-informed practices
4) Create a network of educators to share and refer resources
5) Act with urgency and responsiveness to emerging community priorities and relevant community events
Members of the Work Group include:
Dr. Sharonica Hardin-Bartley (Co-Chair)
University City School District
Dr. Terry Harris (Co-Chair)
Executive Director of Student Services
Rockwood School District
Director of Student Services
Pattonville School District
Dr. Kashina Bell
Assistant Superintendent of Student Services
Clayton School District
Assistant Superintendent of Data, Intervention and Student Support
Ritenour School District
Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District
Dr. Jason Heisserer
Head of School
Crossroads College Preparatory School
Manger of Social Work Services
St. Louis Public School District
Coordinator of Student Services
Confluence Charter Schools
Assistant Superintendent for Student Services
Hazelwood School District
Dr. Gina Piccinni
Assistant Superintendent of Student Services
Parkway School District
Educator and Alive and Well STL Ambassador
University City Children’s Center
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