Keeping Students Well
The start of this school year has been marked by dizzying loss. In the short time since school began in August, the SLPS community has mourned the deaths of six school-age children who were lost to violence.
“We have to support students and staff who are grieving. We have to help those whose capacity to cope is overwhelmed with so many emotions,” notes Megan Marietta, Manager of Social Workers. The District has been working with the SLPS Foundation over the last three years to expand the support it can provide to students who are coping with trauma. Thanks to funding and community partnerships, SLPS Foundation has helped the District: triple the number of schools that offer school-based therapy (from 4 to 13), engage 44 schools in becoming trauma informed and launch a mobile support team, which includes trauma informed therapists, that travels from school to school and work with both students and staff.
Becoming Trauma Informed
Thanks to a two-year grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health, and an investment from the U.S. Department of Education, 44 schools are engaged in becoming ‘trauma informed.’ They are working with training consultants including Alive and Well and UMSL’s Children’s Advocacy Center to build practices in schools that better support students impacted by trauma, and create healing environments where children can learn. Each participating school has created a school wellness team which has participated in over 40 hours of training that covers topics ranging from mindfulness, to restorative practices, to creating “power plans” to support individual students. In addition, with funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health, the schools have seed money to implement new practices in their wellness plan. Here’s a glimpse of what schools have been pursuing:
- AESM Middle School noticed that the bathrooms were often stressful spots for students, and where fights might break out. Students and teachers worked together to convert these “hot spots” into more calming zones and have seen less disruption in these areas. See pictures here.
- Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is implementing a Peace Room where students can come to re-center themselves, practice mindfulness and de-stress. Coverage of the Peace Room is here.
- Carver Elementary Schools created sensory areas which students can use when they need to regulate or practice healthy coping strategies.
- Pamoja Elementary School invested in resources for teachers including a “trauma informed library” so that school staff could read and learn more about supporting their students.
School Based Therapy
For students who are tackling significant issues, 13 of the District’s highest need schools can now offer school-based therapy during the school day. This work is done in partnership with providers including the St. Louis Children’s Hospital/BJC Healthcare, Little Bit Foundation and Hopewell. SLPS Foundation supports the growth of these partnerships and is overseeing the evaluation of their impact. Therapists mostly provide one-one-one counseling as well as some group counseling. They also work closely with parents, guardians and teachers to develop a treatment plan and consistent care. While this initiative is very much in its “pilot” stage, we are seeing promising results of this effort including reading growth for students in one-on-one therapy, increased time in the classroom (not absent), and parents noted an increase in positive behavior.
Promoting Positive School Cultures
In addition to school level work, the District has created a District Level Trauma Team which is devoted to ensuring that District policies and practices support student wellness. Additionally, this fall, the District is conducting student and staff surveys (administered by a Panorama) that will give the whole community a chance to provide feedback on how to strengthen school culture. Read more on this effort.