The Trauma-Informed School
A Trauma-Informed model is a paradigm shift. Policies for zero tolerance create punitive cultures which perpetuate negative behavior. In a trauma-informed model, students are taught how to regulate their emotions as part of the curriculum. Negative behavior is seen as a learning opportunity with space provided to reteach a response while giving consequences for negative choices and recognition for positive. Additionally, students are taught how long-term stress impacts their health, along with the skills needed to overcome the effects of that stress. Until a child learns how to regulate their emotions, they cannot learn. Their brains are wired for fear first.
ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states "Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, early experiences are an important public health issue. Much of the foundational research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)". From years of research, a study was developed that gives a score for the quantity of ACEs. If a child, 0-18, has an ACE score of 6 or more, the CDC notes a 20 year drop in life expectancy. This is a bleak number. However, we have hope.
Current literature focuses heavily on preventing ACEs. Unfortunately, a significant amount of our student population has already experienced ACE scores of more than four. Therefore, we need to teach our students how to self-regulate and how to be resilient, all while pointing to Christ as our Hope. Hope and resilience beat ACEs. We firmly believe this after seeing positive changes in our students who have learned these tools.
In a healthy home, a child will naturally experience toxic stress. However, the physiological effects of stress are naturally buffered by a stable adult and a healthy response to stress is developed. In an unhealthy home, with ACEs occurring, the child is not given the opportunity to learn healthy responses. The stable adult is absent. The results are lifelong unhealthy responses to even small amounts of stress. A Trauma-Informed school takes into account what this stress does in the brain and focuses on reteaching learned response.
Many times, the effects of multiple, traumatic events mimic characteristics of ADHD, Autism, or Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). Research shows that teaching a child how to self-regulate can help offset these behaviors. Autism resources such as weighted blankets, stress balls, noise reducers and zones of regulation charts can help students learn to regulate their emotions.