We know the impacts of trauma. Now what can schools and communities do about it?

Over the past two decades, a growing body of epidemiological research has shown us just how common experiences of trauma and adversity in childhood are, as well as the staggering impact they can have on lifelong health and well-being. With evidence of these impacts now well-established, we often ask, “But what can we do about it?” Best Starts for Kids hopes to be part of the answer to that question.

Our 32 trauma-informed and restorative practices awardees came together recently to share their work and build community as they launch projects this school year. The meeting demonstrated the power of bringing schools and communities together to work toward a shared vision. “Being in a room that was full of energy, unity, excitement, and love was an amazing experience,” said Latasha Jackson-Rodriguez, Executive Director of Restore Assemble Produce. “Networking with other partners that shared the same vision for our community spoke volumes.”

Our goals with this work are big: we hope to demonstrate innovative approaches to tackling some of the most persistent and impactful inequities in education. As the school year gets under way, we’re excited to share some of the powerful ways schools and communities are coming together to transform our education system, build classrooms that recognize the genius in every student, and help children and young people grow up happy, healthy, and safe.

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Partners from the organization Unleash the Brilliance at the awardee convening. Best Starts for Kids funds will expand the organization’s partnership with Cascade Middle School and Madrona Elementary School.

Building schools’ capacity to understand and address trauma and adversity

We know that all forms of childhood adversity and trauma—including adverse childhood experiences, historical and intergenerational trauma, and the trauma our young people experience as a result of racism and oppression—can lead to lifelong impacts on health and well-being. We also know that healing is possible with the right supports. Our young people spend much of their time in school, and our schools have a unique opportunity to make meaningful, lasting impact. Building trauma understanding among adults who work with young people is foundational to shifting approaches. Our awardees are building capacity to address trauma in a variety of ways.

  • Partners in Education Reform and the American History Travelling Museum will partner with Leschi Elementary, John Muir Elementary, and Orca K-8 in Seattle to lead collective storytelling with elders in the community. The partnership will help build a safe learning environment for teachers, staff, students and families to promote collaboration and understanding of the impacts of historical adversity.
  • The Imagine Institute will provide a 10-month training program on trauma and resilience for child care providers serving low-income families county-wide. Topics will include how relationships can heal children and adults who experience trauma, recognizing and responding to vicarious or secondary trauma, promoting resilience, and an introduction to racism, anti-racism, and institutional oppression.

Promoting positive identity development with culturally responsive curriculum and programming

Feeling safe and engaged in school means young people need to feel they belong, are seen and heard, and that what they are learning is relevant to their identities and lives. We know that engagement leads to improved attendance, higher achievement, and fewer classroom disruptions. Our awardees are connecting the strength our young people’s cultural communities directly to their educational attainment.

  • At the Federal Way Open Doors reengagement center, El Centro da la Raza will provide bilingual, culturally competent case management, mentoring, and weekly activities for students to build self-confidence by exploring their cultural identities and histories, learning about social and political movements, and learning from local leaders in their communities. The partnership aims to keep more students engaged in their education, completing high school diplomas, and prepared for post-secondary education and employment.
  • Center for Ethnical Leadership (CEL) will partner with South Shore PK-8 and Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary in Seattle, passionate community members, Youth 180, and the Seattle Public Schools Office of Leadership Development and Equity Impact to co-create a training program to help all students feel safe, believe in themselves, and engage in learning. CEL will deliver co-created training sessions each year and mobilize a team of teachers, staff, parents, and students trained and able to dispatch to classrooms, cafeteria, and recess to provide conflict resolution assistance.

Using restorative practices to create healing school environments

For schools to become healing spaces, we must invest in restoring and repairing relationships between schools, families, and young people. Our awardees are centering youth empowerment and authentic family engagement, while also expanding innovative approaches to restorative practices in schools across all grade levels.

  • The NAACP will partner with the Seattle Council Parent, Teacher, Student Association on a two-fold strategy focusing on educating and healing adults and empowering youth through collaboration. Families will be invited to circle chats that facilitate healing and improve parents’ and caregivers’ ability to partner with schools and effectively advocate for the educational outcomes of their students. Youth will convene to identify issues most important to them such as empowerment, race, social justice and equity, and share their experiences with their communities, key stakeholders, and leaders.
  • Snoqualmie Valley School District, the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, and Snoqualmie/North Bend Police Department will build on work started with a Best Starts mini-grant by providing staff with ongoing coaching to more fully embed restorative practices into the school day, policies, and culture. The program includes hiring a full-time School Social Worker for those students needing more intensive supports, and a half-time Community Liaison to support stronger relationships between the school, families, and the community.
  • Dispute Resolution Center of King County will partner with Showalter Middle School in Tukwila School District, Bridging Cultural Gaps, and the East African community to establish a peer mediation program and hold community building and restorative circles in classrooms. The project will also convene staff learning circles to shift perspectives from seeing a rule being broken to seeing a student needing healing.
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Seattle Council PTSA President Sabrina Burr with cultural competency expert Dr. Edwin Nichols. Dr. Nichols gave a keynote presentation at the awardee gathering.

Investing in learning and evaluation to expand our knowledge

While the impacts of childhood adversity, trauma, and racism are increasingly well-documented, much less is known about how best to interrupt this trajectory in schools to set our young people up for lifelong health and well-being. As we explore innovative approaches to tackling inequities and building resilience in our kids and communities, Best Starts for Kids will expand our collective knowledge base through ongoing learning and evaluation in partnership with awardees. We will be documenting successes and challenges implementing programs, convening awardees to learn from one another as their work progresses, and exploring the impacts of these investments on young people’s identity development, personal and academic growth, as well as whole school culture and climate.

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Over 70 people attended the trauma-informed and restorative practices awardee gathering.

The excitement around working together to build collective knowledge was evident at the trauma-informed and restorative practices awardee gathering. “I am excited to work as a team to share our different gifts and talents with our youth and families,” said Jackson Rodriguez. “Thank you trauma-informed and restorative practices family! The village walls will stand tall and strong when we do it together.”

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