Trauma-sensitive schools foster resilience

At TMC we believe that resilience is the human superpower to bounce back and thrive beyond adversity. Our mission with the Trauma Sensitive Schools Initiative is to infuse resilience building into all facets of school culture, as a direct response to the high prevalence of trauma and adversity in our urban communities.

During the past year we have learned so much with our partners at Kansas City Public Schools, especially in our pilot schools, JA Rogers and Garfield Elementary. Most importantly, we have learned that we cannot do this alone. Building resilient schools is a community’s social responsibility.

Based on the Philadelphia Urban ACE study, conducted in 2013, 83 percent of those in the urban community have experienced at least one traumatic event in their childhood; and 37 percent have experienced four or more. Additionally, we know that there are high concentrations of poverty within our urban communities. This is reflected in our pilot schools, where more than 95 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, which equates to living below the poverty line. Poverty = high prevalence of toxic stress, community violence and neglect, which results in trauma. Given this context, how can we grow resilience in our schools?

Helpful links on trauma sensitivity in schools
Learn more about the Urban ACE Study
Trauma-Sensitive Schools

Growing resilient schools means educating everyone in the system on how the brain works. Trauma and toxic stress corrupts the human stress response by disrupting psycho-social development and learning. Next, we introduce strategies and tools for supporting teachers and students in the learning environment, such as exercises that promote mindfulness, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and creative problem-solving.

What is possible with this? In each of our pilot schools we have a resilience team that has been doing the prep work and visioning with us to roll out to the full school. During one of our first team training session the PE teacher came in feeling curious about the initiative, but reported feeling ambivalent, overwhelmed and like there was no one to ask for help.

Throughout the course of 16, in-depth hours of training, this teacher shifted her perspective on her position with the school. When asked, “Who are you, really?” This teacher reframed her role from PE teacher to “Mindful Movement Coordinator.” So now, not only is she teaching physical education, but also mindfulness and resilience on a daily basis, and she does all this in collaboration with her fellow teachers.

Another resilience team teacher shared that having her professional self-care (stress management) plan allowed her to experience the first stress-free end of the school year of her 10-year teaching career. When schools have a common language around trauma sensitivity and resilience, teachers and staff benefit as well. They are more prepared to get creative with navigating the day-to-day struggles of teaching and learning.

This summer we will launch our inaugural Resilient Schools Facilitator Summit, June 8-12, here in Kansas City, Mo. This is a dynamic team learning experience that prepares an interdisciplinary team of school-based professionals to facilitate learning experiences for their colleagues, and to build a strategic plan for implementation.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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