Below is an excerpt from “Turning Around Trauma” by Jonathan Sapers in the Fall 2015 edition of Scholastic Administrator. The article, which features TLPI Director Susan Cole, examines how some schools are working to support students impacted by the trauma response.
Susan Cole, the lead author of two influential books on helping traumatized children learn and the director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a joint program of Harvard Law School and the nonprofit children’s rights organization Mass Advocates for Children, remembers wondering about certain children when she worked as a special education teacher in the 1970s. “There were a few children who, when you calmed them down, could read quite well,” Cole says. “Some days they could read and then they couldn’t read. There was something missing that I could just feel but I couldn’t understand.”
Cole left teaching to become an attorney with the goal of improving education rights for children who felt marginalized at school, and in the late 1980s she started working at Mass Advocates as a staff attorney. When stringent state school expulsion laws were passed in the early 1990s, she began representing affected children and families.
Facing a newly unsympathetic system, Cole became interested in the behaviors that were prompting the expulsions. They all had a common theme, she says: “Most of those kids had experienced tremendous traumatic events.” So Cole began collaborating with trauma experts and other attorneys; one result was the book Helping Traumatized Children Learn: A Report and Policy Agenda. Its follow-up, Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools, was based on the work of TLPI. It describes a process for creating a trauma sensitive school. (Recent studies connect the trauma response to lower grades, grade retention, and a greater likelihood of special education placement.)
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