Our Journey to Create Trauma-Sensitive Schools

In the summer of 2016, the Superintendent of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) came to ChildSavers and our partner organization, Greater Richmond SCAN. He had struggling students, struggling teachers, and struggling schools. The schools were underperforming and he knew why.

We met in the Board Room of our building. He knew that the trauma students experienced was a barrier to learning. Something needed to change. He reached out and asked for help.

Richmond Public Schools Resiliency Partnership

Thus began the journey for the RPS Resiliency Partnership. With this Partnership, we will create trauma-sensitive schools. ChildSavers and SCAN will work with specific schools to create a replicable model to implement across Richmond and beyond. Our model is based on work done across the nation. The movie Paper Tigers has helped to document the transformative work done in one high school in Walla Walla, Washington. This movie is now available for streaming and purchase.

Our model works to help children be resilient and create trauma-sensitive schools. This is done through three focus areas:

  • Training and professional development
  • Parental engagement
  • Mental health services

Our training and professional development is creating common knowledge and common language for all school staff. We are available for consultation to help school staff view problems and opportunities through a trauma-informed lens. SCAN is leading the effort to engage parents with a dedicated Parent Engagement Specialist. ChildSavers is dedicating three mental health clinicians to work with kids directly in schools.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School is only 0.7 miles from our ChildSavers office where we see children for counseling. However, because of barriers of transportation, health, and other burdens, many children cannot access needed mental health services. By being in the schools, we are better able to provide mental health support to children who have experienced or witnessed trauma.

First Steps

First, we built a model and started trying it out. In August of 2016, we trained over 500 teachers and school staff in seven East End Richmond Public Schools. These schools were Armstrong High School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, Bellevue Elementary School, Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, George Mason Elementary School, Woodville Elementary School, and Fairfield Court Elementary School.

Next, we started monthly professional development opportunities for all school staff. And we began to seek funding.

We secured seed funding from the Robins Foundation Community Innovation Grant in December of 2016. This funding played significant role in making this Partnership get off the ground. This allowed us to start our work in earnest.

We have scaled our initial implementation of this plan as we seek further funding. We also added one more school to the plan: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Preschool Learning Center. ChildSavers will have clinicians in two schools beginning in September of 2017. We are excited about our innovative work to help RPS succeed. We continue to close the funding gap of this 2.2 million dollar project so we can be successful in building a resilient community.

Building Resilience Across the Country

Schools around the country are responding to trauma by building resilience. Resilience is the universal prescription for trauma. It helps children to overcome and cope with what has happened. What is the biggest factor in resiliency? Healthy relationships with adults. This is why it is essential that teachers, mentors, parents, guardians, and coaches understand the impact of trauma on the young brain.

Together as a community, we can be part of this life-changing initiative. You can learn about work done in Missouri,  in Arizona, in Chicago, in Wisconsin, and in Baltimore. We are just beginning our journey to a resilient community where all children can thrive. If you want to be part of this work and learn more, sign up for one of our quarterly workshops. Our next free workshop, “Surviving and Thriving: Trauma and Resilience in Our Community,” is 6-8PM, July 24th at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church. Email Lindsey Leach at lleach@childsavers.org to register.

We are proud to be working to create trauma-sensitive schools here in Richmond and beyond. Did you know that ChildSavers is working with schools and school districts including Petersburg City, Henrico County, Smyth County, Page County, Surry County, Dinwiddie County, and statewide Head Start programs to help them be trauma-sensitive? We are very excited to be leaders in this work. Stay tuned for more information and help be a champion for trauma and resilience in our schools and communities.

About the Author

By John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education

John Richardson-Lauve is a licensed clinical social worker with over 20 years of experience working in community mental health. He is committed to supporting and strengthening individuals and communities that struggle with adversity. His experience includes work with chronically mentally ill adults, substance abuse, residential youth care, foster care, and outpatient mental health. He has worked with homeless veterans in New York City, in a hospice home for those with HIV in the early stages of the AIDS crisis, and six years living in a home with eight teenage girls in foster care. John is an experienced trainer, lecturer, and keynote presenter. He is the Director of Mental Health and Lead Trauma and Resilience Educator at ChildSavers. John and his wife have a nine-year-old son and together, they have worked with over 50 children in foster care in their home.

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