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Education Reforms Need to Address Trauma, Report Finds

Education Reforms Need to Address Trauma, Report Finds

A new report from the D.C. Children’s Law Center has revealed that children who are exposed to traumatic experiences will benefit from teachers and employees trained to respond to the needs trauma creates.

The report specifically looks at schools in D.C., but because D.C. represents just one of many districts that have low-income areas where children are more susceptible to trauma, the report has nationwide implications

According to Judith Sandalow of the Children's Law Center for the Huffington Post, "[t]rauma can impact every area of a child's life, including school. Students who have experience trauma are more likely to be referred for special education, have higher rates of school discipline referrals and suspensions, lower test scores and grades, and are less likely to graduate." 

Sandalow discusses her experience with one D.C. student, Janice, who was the victim of a sexual assault that caused her to subconsciously feel unsafe everywhere- including school. Janice's teachers, not trained to deal with trauma, dealt with the breakdowns by calling her mom and her grades fell as a result of the constant durress.

When Janice was transferred to a school with an onsite counseling program, the change in her feelings and behavior was immediate. Said Sandalow:

Having staff walk her into the school made Janice feel safer. Janice also bonded with a school attendance counselor, one of the people who greeted her every morning. Because the attendance counselor made her feel comfortable, school leaders gave Janice permission to go see her whenever she started to feel anxious during the day. It all helped.

In trauma-sensitive schools, they "can improve academics, mainly by helping children feel safe and enabling them to build supportive relationships with school staff. There are multiple models, but educators are typically trained to create predictable and structured environments and make students feel welcome and supported," said The Washington Post

In addition to training teachers in trauma-sensitivity, the policy paper published by the center "Addressing Childhood Trauma in DC Schools" included some other recommendations as well.

"Educators also can help students by focusing on areas where a child does well, taking a strength-based approach, and therefore giving a child the opportunity to feel successful," the paper said.

Further, the paper recommends supporting practices by agencies like DC’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)," which has "been implementing a trauma systems therapy model in their practice. CFSA has also worked with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to train over 440 DC educators in trauma systems therapy."

Finally, the paper included essential components and traits from successful trauma-sensitive schools compiled by the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative of Massachusetts. Such characters include:

  • an understanding of how trauma works by all school staff, from everyone from the bus driver to the cafeteria workers to athletic coaches.
  • a shared sense of responsibility by staff to help students succeed
  • the creation of an environment where all students feel safe
  • a school-wide focus on children's development of social and behavioral skills
  • school leaders who are prepared to handle escalating trauma in child's life or in neighborhood
  • expulsion and suspension that are used as last resort disciplinary measures so as to not isolate children who have experienced trauma.

Read the full paper and list of requirements for trauma-sensitive schools here.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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