New trauma-responsive school model helps teachers address students’ chronic stress in high-poverty contexts

What's New

Research has shown that over 80 percent of inner city youth report experiencing one or more traumatic events in their lives. Brain science tells us that dealing with such chronic stress puts a person in a fight-or-flight state that makes it extremely difficult to learn and succeed in the classroom. Emerging work to create trauma-responsive educators and schools is beginning to address the need to create environments and practices that can meet the challenge of the high-trauma context of many urban school settings. The UChicago Urban Teacher Education Program has begun to work with the University of Chicago’s Dr. Micere Keels to make trauma-responsive practice integral to teacher preparation—including new human development coursework for beginning teachers and training workshops for alumni and new candidates alike—so that all educators working in high-poverty neighborhoods are prepared to help students struggling with traumatic stress learn and succeed.

Why It Matters

The current model of incident-specific trauma response, in which school counselors are only called in after particular, often highly publicized disasters, fundamentally misunderstands the chronic and traumatic levels of stress that children growing up in America’s high-poverty neighborhoods experience day-to-day. For example, the Chicago neighborhood in which 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was slain in 2015 had already experienced 838 violent crimes in the 365 days leading up to his death. Too many children coping with this kind of traumatic stress, and consequently struggling to succeed in school, are suspended or expelled and get caught in the school-to-prison-pipeline. Making trauma-responsive practice integral to teacher preparation can help prepare educators with the science and skills to make the school and classroom a space that is both educative and therapeutic—one that meets students where they are instead of punishing them for struggling with the traumatic stress in their lives, and helps them work through that stress to get to a place where they are ready to learn.