Harvard report focuses on creating and advocating for trauma-sensitive schools

The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a nationally recognized collaboration between Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), recently published the second volume of its landmark report “Helping Traumatized Children Learn.” The second volume, “Helping Traumatized Children Learn: Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools” offers a guide to a process for creating trauma-sensitive schools and a policy agenda to provide the support schools need to achieve that goal.

Both volumes of “Helping Traumatized Children Learn” were co-written by Harvard Law School Lecturer on Law Susan Cole and Assistant Clinical Professor Michael Gregory. Cole is the director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative and the Education Law Clinic at Harvard Law. She and Gregory co-teach the Education Law Clinic, operated by TLPI, which teaches Harvard Law students advocacy and litigation skills on behalf of vulnerable children.

The landmark first volume, “Helping Traumatized Children Learn: A report and policy agenda,” was groundbreaking when it was first published in 2005. The report documents how trauma from exposure to violence—particularly family violence—can be the underlying cause of many learning and behavior problems that children exhibit in the classroom, has played an important role in education reform efforts. Through a combination of printed copies and internet downloads, more than 90,000 copies of the report have been disseminated and more than 10,000 educators, policymakers, parents and others have been trained on the impact of trauma on learning.

In a Nov. 13 article titled “Schools that Separate the Child from the Trauma” New York Times” journalist David Bornstein describes the momentum building behind a movement for trauma-sensitive schools in Massachusetts and around the country. Citing Volumes 1 and 2 of “Helping Traumatized Children Learn,” Bornstein highlights TLPI’s whole-school approach as well as its partnership with the Brockton Public Schools, as a promising example of how schools can use an understanding of trauma’s impacts on learning to create school environments that enable all students to learn.

Cole, the director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, wrote “Addressing Trauma’s Impact on Learning Should Be Central to the Way Schools Are Run,” an op-ed which appeared in the Dec. 17 edition of the Huffington Post. In the op-ed, Cole responds to the New York Times’ five-part series on childhood homelessness, and argues that trauma-sensitive schools are critical for addressing the learning needs of homeless children.

Cole wrote: “[I]f we are to help all children succeed at school, we need a public policy agenda at the state and federal levels that can explicitly empower educators to plan proactively to create the kind of learning environments where students feel the sense of mastery, safety, and belonging that can mitigate the effects of extreme stress. A deep understanding of trauma’s impact on learning combined with time for planning and professional development will allow schools to address urgent needs of their own students in trauma-sensitive ways. In Massachusetts, the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative is working directly with schools and spearheading advocacy to ensure that education policy responds to the need for whole-school trauma sensitivity.”

The second volume of “Helping Traumatized Children Learn” is grounded in theory and practice in schools and with families. The guide is intended to be a living document that will grow and change as more schools become trauma sensitive and add their ideas. The policy agenda calls for changes in laws, policies, and funding streams to support schools in this work.

TLPI also led advocacy efforts to pass MGL c. 69, Section 1N, which established a grant program to create “trauma-sensitive schools.” The “Flexible Framework” for creating safe and supportive whole-school environments proposed in “Helping Traumatized Children Learn” has served as a basis for the work of the Schools and Behavioral Health Task Force (created pursuant to Section 19 of the Children’s Mental Health Law). It has also influenced the Model Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan, developed by DESE pursuant to Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010 (“An Act Relative to Bullying”), and the Essential Conditions for School Effectiveness developed by DESE pursuant to Chapter 12 of the Acts of 2010 (“An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap”).