Staff members at Rockwood School District middle and high schools are learning new ways to approach struggling students.
Instead of asking "What's wrong with you?" they're shifting the focus to "What happened to you?"
"When you see someone acting a certain way, how are you filling in the story of why?" said Emily Luft, program director at Alive and Well Communities. "We need to shift that lens to what has taken place before this that has led to this behavior and how to understand that."
Alive and Well, a nonprofit devoted to addressing and educating about the impact of stress and trauma in communities, has been conducting trauma awareness training with Rockwood staff members since the spring of 2018, when Lafayette High
was the first school to send a cohort through the program. Since then, Rockwood Summit
high schools have followed. Wildwood Middle's
first cohort started its four-part, four-month process this week, and Rockwood Valley Middle
plans to start later this semester.
The goal, said Rockwood Executive Director of Student Services Dr. Terry Harris, is to train all staff members at the district's 10 middle and high schools.
"The first thing is creating awareness of what trauma is and how it impacts our students, how that plays a part in the classroom," Harris said. "Once we create this level of awareness, then we can move to create a level of understanding. With this awareness and understanding, then we can start examining practices, policies and procedures that we have in place so that all of our students can learn at high levels."
Wildwood Principal Dr. Allison Klouse tried out the Alive and Well model with a cohort at Eureka High before bringing it to her school. She plans to have the entire staff educated by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, starting this spring with an initial cohort of more than 20 staff members from all parts of the school.
"We'll explore how to best meet the needs of our students, not only as a large school community but also as individual teachers in classrooms as we work with students: the types of things for us to look for, how we intervene and when," Klouse said. "One of our building goals is the social-emotional learning of our students and deepening the level of understanding around that. What does that look like and how do you support it?"
Trauma-informed care pushes staff members to realize that every person processes trauma differently, even the adults in the equation. So self-care also plays an important role.
"I hope to learn beneficial ways to help students who have experienced some sort of trauma and learn how this trauma can affect their behavior," said physical education teacher Jessica Taylor, a member of Wildwood's first cohort. "All staff members will come in contact with someone who has experienced trauma, and completing this course will give us the tools and resources we need to navigate these interactions."
Harris said staff members who have completed the training say it has opened their eyes and made them better educators.
"As we have the conversation of meeting the needs of all of our students, we know we're going to have to offer support for our teachers to build their capacity," Harris said. "This is just one tool in the toolbox."