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CTIPP joins U.S. Department of Education Webinar to Discuss Trauma-Informed Schools

By Jen Curt, CTIPP's Director of Government Affairs

On January 18, 2023, the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) facilitated a webinar hosted by the U.S. Department of Education (Department) to discuss transforming schools into healing environments.

In August 2022, the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice (CTIPP) released a Trauma-Informed Schools Report to educate policymakers. The report got the attention of the Department.

The Department invited CTIPP to present the report’s findings to State Education Agencies applying for Supportive Schools funding.

Mathew Portell facilitated the webinar on behalf of CTIPP, leveraging his experience as a former Principal of a trauma-informed school in Nashville, Tennessee, to discuss policies that create school-wide transformation that promotes healing and safety.

About the webinar: In June, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law, which included, among other provisions, $1 billion for the Department to develop Stronger Connections grants so states can make their schools safer and healthier learning environments. The Department is hosting a webinar series to help State Education Agencies understand options for using these funds.

Recapping the conversation: The January 18th webinar, “Building Stronger Connections: Selecting High-Quality Evidenced-based Strategies for Safe, Healthy, and Supportive Schools,” was focused on ways to make schools more trauma-informed, including training teachers to recognize and respond to trauma, reforming school discipline practices, teaching emotional regulation to students, creating safe places in schools, and more.

Specifically, the objectives of the webinar were to build an understanding of

  • The importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) and well-being

  • Creating parent and community partnerships as schools are centers of community

  • The integrated student supports needed to create trauma-informed schools and schoolwide strategies to support them

Participants included:

  • Roberto Rodriguez, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy at the U.S. Department of Education

  • Mathew Portell, CTIPP Advocate and Director of Education and Outreach at PACES Connection

  • Mary Skipper, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools,

  • Dr. Robert Jagers, Vice President of Research, CASEL

  • Dr. Raymond C. Hart, Executive Director, Council of the Great City Schools

On behalf of CTIPP, Mathew Portell highlighted the following:

The science of trauma: Trauma and stress impact the brain in several ways. Students who have experienced stress and trauma have an enlarged amygdala, a decrease in neural connectivity between their prefrontal cortex and that amygdala, and a decrease in understanding through the hippocampus, among other ways trauma impacts the human mind, body, and spirit.

Being proactive (rather than just reactive) about changing children’s behavior: A proactive approach is much better than a reactive one, yet there's space to be reactive through that restorative process. Portell implemented mindfulness and movement as a proactive strategy to eliminate suspensions.

Specific changes all schools can make: Portell used Be Well in School and taught kids how to use breath and de-escalate. He saw kids using those strategies.

Trauma-informed schools include and help everyone: It's not just about students, it's also about our staff, and students must watch adults regulate. One approach that Portell used for staff was a tap-out system. When an adult was dysregulated, they could go on the communication tool and say, “I need a tap out,” get themselves regulated with another adult, if needed, to be co-regulation, and then re-enter the classroom.

Authentic school, family, and community partnerships, which are bi-directional, shared power co-constructive relationships, developed the kind of learning ecosystem that help young people effectively navigate, learn, and contribute to school settings.

Portell was intentional about including families. He had liaisons for the families, a family resource center, and family suppers that his school hosted. These measures were about humanizing people and meeting people where they are.

Surveying school climate is an important data-gathering process: After implementing trauma-informed change, Portell surveyed students. He found out that 98% of his kids did feel like they had an adult in the building that loved and cared for them. It was saddening to Portell that their non-English-speaking students were the ones that felt there wasn't any.


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