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The View from Here: Creating Healing School Environments with Trauma-Informed Education

By Michael Piccirillo, Ed.D, CASDA Executive Director

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the changing of the leaves, cool crisp nights and morning runs where I can fill my lungs with fresh air. Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, is just around the corner and not far behind is Thanksgiving, a time to gather with family and friends.

CASDA, like the member school districts we serve, has shifted into full gear since the start of the new school year. We are working with educators across 26 school districts providing DEI training, coaching leaders, assisting with school improvement plans and facilitating the development of strategic plans. Our roundtables are bringing together educators to tackle topics like chronic absenteeism and improving technology support services for students. Additionally, we are offering numerous in person and virtual workshops on equity-centered trauma-informed education and trauma in rural school communities.

This quarterly newsletter highlights the work CASDA has undertaken in equity-centered trauma-informed education. Building on our equity focus, we are challenging educators to interrogate the systems and structures inside schools that perpetuate inequities and exacerbate student and adult trauma. The research article, Centering Youth and Community Perspectives to Support Engagement and Attendance,” asserts to address the systemic and structural stresses schools are experiencing and explains, “systems must consider alternative perspectives in efforts to build cultures of connection and support for their communities.” In the podcast, Never Give Up a Child: Supporting School Attendance and Engagement,” I speak with retired Saratoga Springs Attendance Supervisor Dave Torres, who emphasizes the importance of relationships to support students and families to overcome the trauma that contributes to chronic absenteeism and other detrimental outcomes.

Were we really ready to go back to our pre-pandemic lives this Fall? The increase in the pace of our lives has been accompanied by the stresses associated with work and personal responsibilities. I’m not sure we were prepared for the “new normal.” In fact, a consistent message I have heard from educators is that they approached this school year thinking the challenges of virtual and hybrid learning were behind them and a return to “normalcy” was anticipated. Daily contact tracing, a shortage of bus drivers, attempting to close curriculum gaps carried over from last school year, the SEL needs of students, controversies over mask wearing and a myriad of other issues have retraumatized students and adults. The trauma being experienced by students and adults is real.

A system lens is needed to develop solutions to the problems being faced by schools. Consider using an equity-centered trauma-informed approach. In her book, Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education, Alex Shevrin Vent (2021) calls for schools and educators to respond to trauma occurring presently and to prevent future trauma by making changes to individual practice, and larger educational systems guided by policy and practice. She states, “A trauma-informed lens requires that we also critically think about the status quo in education and be willing to make significant changes to the way we do things” (Venet, 2021, p.10). To be fully trauma-informed and equity-centered, Venet (2021) urges educators to make four shifts: Reactive to Proactive; Deficit-based to Asset-based; Individual Responsibility to Systems Responsibility; and Impact on Us to Changing the World (p.15). According to Venet (2021), these shifts are accompanied by changes in practice, pedagogy and policy.

In sum, our response to trauma needs to change. We must be systematic in considering how to address existing trauma and to prevent future occurrences. We have more control over the systems, structures, and practices causing and compounding trauma than we think. CASDA can help you chart a course of action to create healing school environments.


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