Fix School Discipline Toolkit for Educators - Page 59

Trauma Sensitive Schools and School Districts Children’s exposure to community and family violence is a significant problem in many of our communities around the state. Studies estimate that between 3.3 million and 10 million children in the U.S. witness violence in their own homes each year.44 Children who have experienced early, chronic trauma, such as family or community violence, can develop emotional, behavioral, cognitive and relationship difficulties that can adversely affect their ability to learn and function well in school (Cole, et al., 2005). Exposure to trauma is associated with a higher risk for school drop out (Porche, et al., 2011), and in turn, dropping out of school increases the risk of being imprisoned.45 Unfortunately, students who have experienced violence and trauma may act out, refuse to obey teachers, fight, be unable to pay attention or follow directions. In fact, the area of a child’s brain that is associated with the fear response may become overdeveloped, causing the child to act using a fight or flight response when triggered by a trauma reminder, even when there is no actual threat to fear. In Jenny Horsman’s book, Too Scared to Learn, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse describes how the trauma she experienced affected her ability to learn: I remember crying in the night. I found it difficult to hear Mrs. Patterson when she spoke in the classroom. I felt as if she were speaking from beneath tumbling water, or from the end of a long tunnel. She assumed I was daydreaming. I stopped imagining that I might one day be a teacher . . . . No longer did my imagination dance me through the leaves. The sound of ringing church bells irritated me. Mostly I felt ashamed, different.46 44 Carlson, B.E. (1984). “Children’s observations of interparental violence.” In Roberts, A.R. (Ed.) Battered Women and Their Families (pp. 147-167). New York: Springer Publishing. 45 Cole, et al. 2005; Porche, et al, 2011; Center for Labor Market Studies, 2009. 46 Helping Traumatized Children Learn, A Report and Policy Agenda, Massachusetts Advocates for Children: Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative In collaboration with Harvard Law School and the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence (2005). To purchase or download The goal of creating a “trauma sensitive school” is to reduce problem behaviors and emotional difficulties, as well as optimize positive and productive functioning for all children and youth. When schools are able to address the behavioral health needs of students in a proactive manner, rather than a reactive one, they can increase the resources available to promote educational goals. School leaders in such Trauma Sensitive Schools recognize the importance of behavioral health and dedicate resources as part of an overall effort to reduce barriers to learning. Measurable goals around attendance, academic achievement, graduation rates, bullying incidents, office referrals, suspensions, and expulsions are used to determine whether behavioral health initiatives are successful.47 Other key elements of a school that successfully addresses trauma and behavioral health needs include: 1. A School and Behavioral Health Support Team, which refers to any team established to address behavioral health needs and, like a Student Support or Wrap-Around Services team, is used to plan, coordinate and evaluate services. 2. Mapping of existing mental and behavioral health services and their adequacy and utilization of mental health resources inside and outside of the school community, and training for staff, like paraprofessionals, secretaries, bus drivers, and others to provide ongoing support. 3. Employing a school curricula that includes instruction in problem solving, life skills, social-emotional development, interpersonal community, self-regulation, and violence prevention, such as Second Step (a Social Emotional Learning curriculum). please go to or contact: Anne Eisner, aeisner@, ph: 617-998-0110. 47 The Behavioral Health and Public Schools Framework, Introduction to the Framework, visit, p. 2. 57