Q. Why is Jamestown Public Schools embarking on the journey to become a Trauma Informed Organization?
A. The goal of a trauma informed school is to create a safe haven for learning where all students, including those that are traumatized, can calm their fears, make positive connections with adults and peers, behave appropriately, and learn at their highest levels. It can take multiple years to become a trauma informed organization as changing the culture involves the commitment of everyone within the school district, and also the community. Trauma informed care is committing to the idea that we no longer ask, “what’s wrong with you?” but “what’s happened to you?” It recognizes that children face challenges in their personal lives that can affect their learning in school. It promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize.
Q. What does trauma mean?
A. According to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, experts say that trauma is not the actual event, but rather a response to a highly stressful experience in which a child’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined. Trauma can be a single catastrophic event or a series of smaller ones that may have long-lasting and harmful effects. It can vary widely. To one child it might be the loss of a loved one, to another it might be the loss of a valued object, to yet another, it could be physical or verbal abuse. A child may respond fearfully to people and situations, long after the traumatic events have occurred. Because many factors affect how a child might react to stressful events, every child is different and trauma informed care takes into account those differences and asks everyone surrounding the child to speak the same trauma informed language.
Q. How does trauma affect students?
A. When a student realizes a traumatic or stressful situation, it releases an alarm in the brain and body – what many people know as flight, fight, or freeze response. But what a lot of people don’t know is that by releasing the alarm in the brain it, at the same time, shuts down a child’s ability to learn. Trauma doesn’t just affect children; it can affect anyone with no regard for age, gender, socio-economic background, race, or geography.
Q. Isn’t trauma informed care just an excuse for tolerating students’ bad behaviors?
A. “Trauma does not excuse bad behavior,” according to JPS Superintendent Tim O. Mains, “it helps us understand it, so we can work to change it. JPS has a Code of Conduct that expects consequences when a student misbehaves. While Principals have great latitude to decide what those consequences should be on a case by case basis, we certainly want kids to learn when their responses are inappropriate.” Mains maintains that JPS’ population has changed over the years, and wants to transition from our traditional views on student behavior to an innovative approach that addresses the underlying issues and concerns that children carry with them today. What might seem like an easy situation to deal with at school might not be easy for a child who has had different, or traumatic, experiences. “We are striving to make our schools a sanctuary for students,” Mains continued, “a place where they feel safe and supported in order to attain academic and personal success. Trauma informed care is a way to reach students while also teaching them to be accountable and take responsibility for their behavior.”
Q. What are the principles that a Trauma Informed School strives for?
A. There are five principles of a trauma informed organization that JPS will be working towards over the next three years:
1) Safety: creating areas for students that are calm and comfortable
2) Choice: providing students choices in their treatment
3) Empowerment: noticing a student’s capabilities and strengths
4) Collaboration: making decisions together with students
5) Trustworthiness: providing clear and consistent information to students