On Monday, September 19th, the Reading Public Schools was invited to attend a Conference on Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline at the White House in Washington, D.C. The Conference was sponsored by The White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG), the U.S. Department of Education (ED), the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality (Center on Poverty), and The National Crittenton Foundation (TNCF). Our district was invited to attend because of the work that we have been doing with trauma-sensitive schools, school discipline, and health supports (including mental health supports). This convening brought together 14 states, the District of Columbia, school districts within those states, key researchers and experts in this topic, and nonprofit partners who have demonstrated a strong commitment to improving supports and outcomes for this vulnerable population. Reading was the only Massachusetts school district that attended and was represented by Superintendent of Schools John Doherty, Director of Student Services Carolyn Wilson, and Director of Social and Emotional Learning Sara Burd. The trip was funded through the five year Federal School Transformation Grant which the district received two years ago.
Although the title of the Conference focused on supporting girls of color, each of the practices discussed are easily transferable to any classroom and any student who has experienced trauma in their lives. There are children in every school district that experience trauma and Reading is no exception. In a study that was conducted by the Center for Disease Control, there is a very strong association between adverse childhood experiences (ACES) and other health conditions. If a child has four or more ACES in their life, they have a much greater chance of dying from one of the seven leading causes of death than children that have less than four ACES because of the biological and chemical changes that occur in their brain due to the stress early in their lives.
The Conference focused on how to reduce the stress associated with ACES and to create school cultures that support trauma informed approaches. Several leaders in trauma sensitive approaches as well as, several Senior White House Officials presented, including John King, Secretary of Education, Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, Dr. Angela Diaz, Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, Dr. Roy Wade, Jr., Instructor of Pediatrics for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Roberto Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education. There were also a panel discussion with students who have experienced trauma in their lives and how their schools addressed their situations. As part of the Conference, districts and states convened by region to share and discuss best practices related to discipline, trauma sensitive approaches in school settings, and how to eliminate barriers for successful implementation. Districts then had the opportunity to report back out to the larger group for feedback.
The Reading Public Schools is honored and proud to be representing the state of Massachusetts in these national discussions on how to create safe and supportive learning environments for all of our students. The Conference gave our district an opportunity to learn new ideas, as well as share our own best practices in this critical area. Superintendent Doherty will be giving a brief overview of the Conference at an upcoming School Committee meeting.