Welcome to the Trauma Sensitive Schools Website

Susan Cole, Director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Institute

Welcome to the Trauma-Sensitive Schools Website! As founder and director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative−I would like to tell you a bit about the project, our goals, and how we hope this website will support the growing trauma sensitive schools movement.

Here is how we started: When harsh school expulsion laws passed in the early 90’s our non-profit, Massachusetts Advocates for Children was pretty overwhelmed with requests for representation at expulsion hearings. We sat down with experts in psychology, neuropsychology, trauma, parents and advocates of all stripes. We saw that there was one big misunderstanding. Trauma- related behaviors often come across at school in ways that are hard to figure. A child who doesn’t trust might push the very adults away that he or she craves to be close with. A child who needs to feel in control can come across as obstinate or even aggressive. We learned that children who are helped to feel safe and supported in all areas — socially, emotionally, and academically–in all parts of the school can go on to be successful and behave appropriately, despite whatever adversities they may have endured. Trauma sensitivity must be a regular part of the way schools are run.

I invite you to start−if you haven’t already−by reviewing the vignettes on the website…(Four Perspectives) they represent real children and youth with names, ages, and so forth changed. They are composites of children we have represented in our Education Law Clinic. At Harvard Law School. Their voices and experiences inform all of our work to make schools what we call “trauma sensitive”. That is our goal−to create trauma sensitive schools that allow all children, including those impacted by traumatic experiences, to achieve and be successful at their highest levels.

There are several starting points that are important to understand as you get acquainted with trauma sensitive schools. We have presented them in five boxes on the front page of the website.  The first two boxes describe the problem: one that traumatic experiences are more common than we might have thought. And second that these experiences can impact success in school by interfering with learning, forming relationships, and behaving appropriately. It is important to spend time learning why children affected by trauma can have trouble learning at school before we go on to do something about it. Studies from neurobiology and public health shown on the website are therefore summarized here and more extensively in our book Helping Traumatized Children Learn. You can purchase HTCL or download it for free.

The next set of boxes briefly describe what we need to do—the solution box number three describes the attributes of a trauma sensitive school and why this needs a whole school approach. The fourth summarizes a process for making a school trauma sensitive. This whole school process is explicated in detail in our latest publication: A Guide to Creating a Trauma Sensitive School. The fifth box describes our policy agenda to provide schools with the support they need to become trauma sensitive.

You will see two large boxes at the top of the page. For those who want to join in the work—we have a section titled Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools. This section is for those who are actively engaged in creating a trauma sensitive school as defined here and who want to participate in deepening our understanding and in learning from others. Here, educators who have read both HTCL and the Guide can find a facilitators guide, lesson plans dealing with becoming trauma sensitive and an interactive learning community of educators.

Many people ask us why they must log-in to our Learning Community and does it cost money? I does not cost money to join our work to Build Trauma Sensitive Schools. We provide here a space for those who are using the Guide to Creating a Trauma Sensitive School to receive support from the project and from others in the field and share information and ideas. You can get into the Creating Trauma Sensitive Schools section by calling or emailing our Deputy Director – Anne Eisner to discuss what your school is doing.

The other important section at the top right hand side is called Advocating for Trauma Sensitive Schools. In this section we invite everyone to join in our policy work to advocate for laws and policies to address the needs of all children, including those who are traumatized.

On the website you can read news about the various activities being undertaken, hear from educators. You can also sign up for email alerts.

We hope through this work, we can help to support the growing moving for schools to become trauma sensitive.

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