VIDEO: Principal Ryan Powers Talks about His Trauma-Sensitive School

By Ryan Powers, Principal
Mary E. Baker Elementary School, Brockton, MA

In this video, from the November release of Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 2, Ryan Powers, Principal of the Mary E. Baker Elementary School, in Brockton, MA, discusses the importance of trauma sensitivity for improving  the social and emotional well-being of all students. Principal Powers, discusses Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 1 (the “Purple Book”), which identifies the issues of trauma as pertains to children learning at school. Volume 2: Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools (the “Teal Book”) outlines the flexible framework, detailing the steps necessary for a school to become trauma sensitive and begin educating the whole child, which is important for academic achievement.

“You know it’s not uncommon for the Brockton Public Schools to be the toast of the town. Brockton continues to be recognized for their academic achievements, and also their athletic achievements on the playing fields. However today is a little bit different. Today is about the success Brockton has had educating the whole child. Not just academic achievement, but really the social, emotional and behavioral well being of all its students. Principals and the teachers will tell you, across the state are under tremendous pressure, to ensure our schools are meeting established academic benchmarks, and that our students are proficient and now career and college ready. The perception is, is that if we focus on anything other than academics, our schools will begin to slip. When the reality is, if we don’t focus on the whole child, the social, emotional behavioral well-being, our students, many of them, will never be really successful.

Trauma is not a word that you hear too often, mentioned in schools. Thankfully it is one that we hear, in Brockton. Yet, many students across the Commonwealth, here in Brockton, across the State, and across our nation, are entering school each day, having had some time of traumatic experience or adverse childhood experience, such as abuse or neglect; being a witness or victim to violence. They could be homeless; they could be living in poverty. The list goes on and on, but these are experiences our children are having.

Schools by our own design are not equipped to address these issues. However, these students are sitting in our classrooms, they are sitting in our classrooms here at the Baker; they are sitting in classrooms across Brockton, and again, across the Commonwealth and across the nation. We therefore have no choice, but to change the way we approach teaching and learning. Helping Traumatized Children Learn Vol. 1, also known as the Purple Book, raises awareness to the potential long lasting negative effects trauma may have on an individual, manly how it affects our children, sitting in school. Many of us that read that book dove headfirst into this initiative. It changed the way we think about supports we need to have in place, not just for those students who have been traumatized, but really for all our students. It’s allowed us to become proactive, instead of reactive, and to think outside the box. Some who read the Purple Book remained apprehensive. They acknowledged that trauma was present in schools and that it was impacting our students. Much of that apprehension, though, lies in the fact that educators are uncertain of how to do this. How do I create a safe and supportive learning environment?

Vol. 2, the Teal Book, lays out that clear path for educators and for administrators, to follow. Vol. 2 is about rolling up your sleeves, and getting to work. By creating structures though the implementation of the Flexible Framework, outlined in both volumes, and looking at students through the lenses of the four domains: looking about their Self Regulation; their academic success; their health and well being; and relationships, schools can begin to transform their learning environments to become safer and more supportive.

In my seventeen years as an educator, I have not been involved in an initiative that has such great potential to impact student success. I have had the honor of serving as Principal of two different elementary schools in the City of Brockton. Creating a safe and supportive learning environment has been the bedrock upon which I have created our learning environments. Creating a Safe and Supportive School does not happen overnight. Nor is it the work of one individual. I spent seven years as the Principal of two elementary schools, and I can say any of the success that we have had, or that we are about to have, is really because of the tireless efforts of those teachers, and those staff members working directly with the students. Those teachers and those staff members want nothing more than their students to succeed. Yes, at the end of the day, we measure our student’s success by how well they are doing academically. But our staff, here at the Baker, and other schools across the city, truly understands that in order to be successful academically, we have to educate and create successful learning experiences for the whole child.

The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, wants nothing more than for all of our students to succeed, not just here in Brockton, but across the Commonwealth. The path laid out in Volume 2 allows schools to create a learning environment that supports the social, emotional, behavioral and academic needs of students.

I want to thank you. It truly is an honor to have everyone here, at the Mary E. Baker. It’s a movement I am passionate about, and one that I will always be willing to talk about. And, I just want to thank all those involved, who have contributed to the success of this school and other schools across this city and across the Commonwealth. I’m going to turn this over to Susan Cole, but I do want to say, thank you.″


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