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Trauma-Informed Schools


Students at Wyland Elementary meditate to refocus.

DESE Trauma-Informed Schools Initiative

Ritenour teachers, counselors and principals are focusing on trauma-informed approaches to support all students in the classroom.

After year-long training and studying about the effects of trauma on the developing brain of children and teens, many Ritenour educators will be approaching instruction with an additional focus on helping their students develop healthy relationships with each other and with adults, managing their behaviors better and learning strategies to calm themselves when their anxiety rises.

“Research is showing that as many as one in four children have experienced significant trauma in their lives, which affects the brain and the ability to learn and regulate emotions,” said Julie Hahn, assistant superintendent for data, interventions and student support. “If we want to make sure that every student is learning to his or her potential, we must recognize that we need to help them in different ways. We need to teach to the whole child.”

During the past year, Ritenour school counselors, social workers and principals immersed themselves in learning about trauma-responsive schools. At some schools, all staff completed training. Several of Ritenour elementary schools began piloting new methods to help students regulate their emotions and refocus their learning. Some teachers began introducing more sensory objects and relaxation exercises in their classrooms. Counselors and social workers also began making a bigger plan to help students with the greatest needs.

In the 2017-2018 school year, elementary schools will open a Refocus Room where identified students can work individually for a short time with a social-emotional intervention assistant instead of being referred to the office. The Refocus Room is not a punishment for a student, but rather a place that offers them space to work with sensory objects, exercise equipment and a trained staff member to help them calm down, create a plan and rejoin their class to continue their learning.

“It’s really about helping them learn strategies to calm themselves and be ready to learn,” said Buder Elementary counselor Tina Cummings.

In the upcoming school year, she and two other counselors will split their time at six elementary schools focusing on the social and emotional needs of students who need additional support. The social-emotional counselors will provide additional support to the intervention assistant in the Refocus Rooms and in individual classrooms that have high-needs students. On days when the social-emotional counselor is not in a school, a social worker will provide additional support.

Each elementary school will continue to have another full-time counselor who will focus on regular counseling curriculum with all students. The middle schools will continue with two full-time counselors, social work support and a Discipline with Dignity classroom. Ritenour High School will have five school counselors and social work support. All buildings receive additional support from outside agencies.

Throughout the summer and upcoming school year, all Ritenour educators and support staff in all schools will be trained on understanding the effects of trauma on the brain, how to recognize signs of students who may be acting out as a result of trauma and how to help them with self-calming strategies so they can learn better in the classroom.

Wyland Elementary was one of the schools that had all staff attend extensive training this past year and began implementing new methods in their classroom to help all students build positive relationships.

“Teaching the whole child in my classroom is not only teaching the core subjects but really digging deeper and teaching the behaviors that create positive social responsibility in order for them to be successful later in life, said Wyland Elementary teacher Lauren Openlander.

Wyland Elementary Principal Dr. Lisa Greenstein said she already has noticed a change in some students as they have learned new strategies to manage their behaviors and refocus on learning.

“We have found that our students are really open to learning about mindfulness and exercises to calm themselves,” said Greenstein.