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District finds that creating more trauma-informed schools requires a change of culture []


“The world of thinking about trauma, the importance of school climate and social-emotional learning is 20, 30, 40 years behind the world of instruction."

Joanna Schwartz, a 2nd-grade teacher at Eliza B. Kirkbride Elementary School, was about to take a scheduled break and desperately needed a place to have peace and quiet.

But the only place she could find was a broom closet.

A few years earlier, in another school, Schwartz said teachers were baffled by a 3rd grader who continually fell asleep in class. Was he bored? Hostile? Disrespectful?

None of the three, as it turned out. 

His mother had been found dead in a field, and this made him afraid to fall asleep. “So he stayed up all night watching videos.”

To prevent scenes like these from happening, schools around the country are turning to trauma-informed education, creating an atmosphere that makes it easier for students to learn and teachers to teach.

In a trauma-informed school, Schwartz would have had a place to recharge her batteries and the source of the 3rd grader’s sleepiness would have been discerned much earlier.

A challenge for urban districts

But in large urban districts, particularly those like the School District of Philadelphia that have high rates of poverty, creating so-called trauma-informed schools is proving to be a challenge.  

“It’s something that urban districts across the country are trying to learn,” said Abigail Gray, deputy chief of the District’s Office of Climate and Safety. “In under-resourced settings with not enough adults, too many kids, where trauma affects 70% of your kids, the challenges are gigantic.”

What is social and emotional learning?

Jayme Banks, who joined the District in May as director of trauma services, said that the District soon will release a comprehensive plan for spreading trauma-informed education through the school system.

 The plan will be based on a “whole school approach,” she said, a change from the District’s earlier plan of simply training as many personnel as possible in the principles of trauma-informed education.

Community Behavioral Health, which provides some school-based services, will also be unveiling changes in its school-based services for 2020-21 that will place greater emphasis on evidence-based treatments. Officials there say they are also placing greater emphasis on trauma-informed education.  

To read the full article by Paul Jablow, click here.

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