Washington, DC, forum examines trauma-informed approaches to end school-to-prison pipeline

Free Minds

A diverse group of school staff, mental health professionals, justice advocates, and city employees recently crowded the Moot Court Room at the University of the District of Columbia David E. Clark Law School to begin dismantling the school to prison pipeline.

The event included justice-involved youth and recently incarcerated people who described their struggles to overcome adversity; they spoke from the heart in unsparing detail. The audience and the other presenters—including David Grosso, at-large DC City Council member and the chair of the Education Committee—were riveted by the stories and the poetry, and lingered in animated conversation long after the program ended. The Trauma-Informed DC Initiative and ACEs Connection Network organized the event, which took place last month.

David Grosso Wash., DC City Council MemberGrosso described how the city council took a first, small step by passing a ban on pre-K suspensions and expulsions of three- and four-year olds, overcoming pushback from those who believed a ban, even for children this young, would undermine discipline and learning. The legislation also requires every local education agency to submit information—organized by campus, grade, sex, and race—to the Office of State Superintendent of Education on suspensions and expulsions. The first report is due in October.

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Childhood trauma — is it a disability or injustice?

blog-1024x818You may have noticed the recent media attention being paid to the Compton Unified School District lawsuit (NPR and LA Times). The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of eight Compton students and alleges that the school system failed to properly educate students who suffered from repeated violence and other trauma.

Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that filed the lawsuit (along with Irell & Manella LLP), is asking a Federal judge to grant an injunction that will require the school district to provide training to teachers, administrators and other staff. Echo Parenting & Education is currently in discussion with Public Counsel about what that training might look like, given our experience in conducting trauma-informed nonviolent training for the staff of Sally Ride Elementary, our pilot project for the Whole School Initiative.

Our goal in these trainings is not to tell teachers and others how to do their jobs, but to act as a resource to help district staff recognize and understand the effects of trauma (as specified in the injunction), as well as to provide a trauma-informed nonviolent frame to understand what lies beneath the behavior of all students. Together, we can ensure that children are not further punished for the outworkings of pain, numbness and anger that are the natural consequences of trauma, which can include witnessing community violence and experiencing racism and bullying, but also overly-harsh and misattuned parenting.

It has taken this lawsuit to highlight the plight of the many children who arrive at school with scenes of violence etched in their memories, or feelings of powerlessness in the face of abusive adults or systems. They are primed and ready to blow or have found that the way to survive is to disengage entirely. The conversation is happening at long last, and all kudos to those brave Compton students and the valiant, pioneering pro-bono lawyers, not to mention the long-suffering teachers and parents.

We wholeheartedly agree with the argument that accommodations should be made for students who

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School leaders rethink school discipline at White House conference

Mike Lamb, TurnAround for Children ________________________

Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children

There is a growing national consensus, reflected in the positions and priorities of lawmakers at all levels of government, that the U.S. criminal justice system must be reformed with the goal of ending mass incarceration.  That consensus extends to upstream preventive strategies, especially for improving approaches to school discipline.  The zero-tolerance approach to school discipline leads to approximately three million children being expelled or suspended annually, with a disproportionate number being children of color. This indisputably contributes to increased school dropout rates, juvenile justice system involvement, and ultimately to higher levels of incarceration.
A July 22 meeting at the White House to “Rethink School Discipline” reflects this growing consensus. The Obama Administration convened several hundred school leaders from around the country to hear from federal policymakers and share best practices and current research. There were major addresses by the heads of two federal departments—U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the stage, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch made concluding remarks.  But  center stage belonged to local school leaders, philanthropists, and academics.

Mike Lamb, Turnaround for Children’s executive director in Washington, D.C., reported on the breakout session he attended, “Building Trauma-Informed Schools.” One takeaway message, said Lamb, is that there is a roadmap to follow in schools and in classrooms to help manage the impacts on teaching and learning from the stress in children’s lives, especially those affected by the trauma of multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). [Learn more about adverse childhood experiences at ACES 101.]

“This gives us hope for the most challenged children,” he said.

In his report on the small group conversation, Lamb highlighted three messages. He noted that the data might be scary but the situation is not hopeless. The

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SaintA helps create a trauma-informed school in Green Bay, WI

Sara Daniel

Sara Daniel _________________

As with many schools that have students living in poverty and who have a high number of adverse childhood experiences, Franklin Middle School in Green Bay, WI, has some who need assistance with attendance or behaviors.

They received a grant to form the Responder Project to address school discipline issues. As part of the project, Sara Daniel, SaintA’s clinical services director, met with a group of 17 seventh-grade teachers and seven staff members, including a social worker dedicated to the project, several times since August 2014 to provide training in trauma-informed care and trauma-sensitive schools.

As a result,  63% of the 22 students in the project had improved behavior compared to the previous year, 71% had excellent attendance, and 25% were referred to outside sources for mental health assistance.

“Sara’s support has been critical; she’s key to all of this,” said Kim Shanock, the school district’s coordinator of Community Partners and Grants, who secured funding for the one-year pilot project. “She brought a way to think about kids’ mindsets, and the teachers and staff adored her.”

Part of the reason for those feelings toward Daniel, Principal Jackie Hauser said, was that she did a great job of blending research with practical experience and real-life applications. In early meetings, she said, staff shared their frustrations and Daniel just listened.

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Washington, DC, City Council Education Committee probes how trauma-informed schools can help students

David Grosso, DC City Council Education Committee Chair

District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso _____________________

Two-and-a-half years ago, a school administrator confronted District of Columbia Councilmember David Grosso with a stark and surprising reality when he visited the Walker-Jones Education Campus to learn about a literacy intervention program. At the end of the visit, the school official delayed Grosso’s departure to make one additional point: Something must be done to address the fact that over 40% of all DC students have experienced trauma—a “jaw-dropping” number, according to Grosso.

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It’s time to support trauma-informed schools in Pennsylvania

APACapitolThe Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) of Pennsylvania has led us all,  in Pennsylvania and beyond, to a tipping point for educational equity – if the legislature endorses the BEHC detailed “fair funding” recommendations.

There’s no doubt that the task of the commission was daunting. Education funding concerns are very weighty and very high profile in Pennsylvania. House Bill 1738 set up the BEFC and tasked it to “develop a basic education funding formula and identify factors that may be used to determine the distribution of basic education funding among the school districts …”

The BEFC recommended factors required for fair funding.  Eight are included in a proposed formula and eight are recommended for consideration by the full General Assembly.

Can School Heal Children in Pain? Yes, it Can!

ApaperJames Redford, director of Paper Tigers, a documentary about the journey of students and teachers at a trauma-sensitive alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington, posed a provocative question in a recent blog: can school heal children in pain?

I believe that it can.

While trauma-sensitive schools can’t erase every source of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), considering how many hours of their lives children spend in school, educators can do much to mitigate the effects of traumatic stress, and help students to build skills for resilience and well-being. At the very least, schools can refrain from further traumatizing children.

Children with disabilities and behavioral problems, in particular children of color, are regularly subjected to practices such as seclusion and restraint in school. The data conclusively prove that “zero tolerance policies” driving the school to prison pipeline disproportionately affect students of color

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