In the first two parts of this series (part one, part two), we talk about the implications of trauma and student behavior and how to create a trauma informed school. The success of creating a trauma informed school weighs heavily on the school and community embracing the holistic approach. At Los Angeles Education Partnership, we achieve this through our Community School model. As former teachers, we are aware that the more we pile on our teachers, the less effective the approach becomes. We’re not trying to create another silo for teachers to integrate. Instead we’re teaching an approach that integrates understanding trauma and strategies to react, think, communicate and teach more compassionately. It’s similar to how a person would accept an alternative way to improve his lifestyle as a long-term change, and not as a quick fix.
That long-term change transpires through the involvement from all levels, including principals, administration, teachers, students, parents and the community. With each member of the school represented in the voice, the mindset of the school evolves into a community-like setting. A trauma informed lens is applied to the academic and social emotional support in each classroom. But that lens is not a standalone. It integrates understanding behavior and the stress triggers that come from high poverty communities, and includes strategies that mitigate those triggers. Once teachers and staff can come from a place of understanding and not consequence, it shifts the power to the students to work at their best potential.
Take for example Social Justice Humanitas Academy Pilot School (SJHA) in Los Angeles where teachers have a voice alongside parents, administrators, students and other stakeholders on lesson planning and school culture. SJHA began as a Community School in partnership with LAEP in 2011. According to a recent report called Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schoolsby The Center for Popular Democracy, “Teachers, in partnership with LAEP, created the design for the school and the curriculum, which is fully social justice focused. This focus, along with a deep understanding of the importance of student-centered pedagogy, has created remarkable levels of engagement on the parts of students.”
When LAEP helped write the teaching plan for their pilot program, the focus was on the school’s academic and social emotional needs. What we’ve seen at SJHA is increased student engagement and leadership. Student councils and personal growth workshops were created to allow students to self reflect and share challenges. Mentor programs were structured so that upper grade students mentored lower grade students, providing mentees peer-to-peer academic and emotional support. In the case of the student facing challenges, be it personal or academic, teachers took a positive approach to resolving the challenges. By highlighting the student’s successes and working with the student to identify stress triggers and ways to mitigate them, students learned problem-solving behavior and emotional intelligence.
The results: In just the past year, Social Justice has raised its graduation rate from 83 to 93.9 percent and its suspension rate remains at only .2 percent of students in the last two years. Furthermore, 75 percent of students are passing college prerequisite classes; and 93 percent of students and 95 percent of parents feel safe. This is thanks to its model practices around restorative justice, interdisciplinary teaching, relevant curriculum, and relationship building. The program also received an award from the Coalition for Community Schools as well as a new network, Teacher-Powered Schools.
The beauty of creating a trauma-informed community school is it’s messy and not “cookie cutter” in the sense that we look at empowerment, engagement, solutions, heart, passion, and community issues to determine a personalized outcome for the school. We recognize the value of different approaches working for different schools, so no two infrastructures are the same.
To help transition to a holistic approach, we give each school time to adjust to each new step and we’re proactive in supporting teachers and staff to learn the new strategies. We understand that we can’t build success or quality overnight, with one workshop and a packet of handouts. The holistic approach to creating a community school involves a new paradigm that progresses into that long-term change of a trauma sensitive school.