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Trauma-sensitive educators can lead to better outcomes, committee hears

What happens at home can interfere with a student’s ability to learn, particularly if what’s happening outside of school is leading to toxic stress and trauma.

The impacts of this trauma can lead to physical changes in the brain that make it difficult to learn, according to Steve Graner, a project director for the ChildTrauma Academy.

Graner and other educational leaders spoke to the House Education Policy Committee Tuesday about childhood trauma and shared ways in which educators are helping children overcome negative experiences to excel in school.

Aiming to expand these techniques to more schools, HF3556, sponsored by Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul), would provide a yet-to-be-determined amount of one-time money in Fiscal Year 2021 to support a trauma-informed school incentive aid program. Eligible school sites would receive $40 times the number of pupils enrolled at the site on Oct. 1 of the previous fiscal year.

The committee held an informational hearing on the proposal but no action was taken. There is no Senate companion.

Impacts of trauma can manifest in the classroom through a lack of focus, impulsivity, behavior problems, aggression, shutting down, manipulation, defiance and even perfection, Moran said. “Research has shown that due to the effect of trauma on the brain, traditional discipline and the rewards system are ineffective.”   

The school administration, staff and teachers of Intermediate School District 287 became so attuned to these issues, they adopted a therapeutic teaching model. The district, which serves high-risk youth, began providing professional development on trauma, de-escalation techniques, and replaced school resource officers with safety coaches.

When teachers learn what trauma is, how it effects their students and then how to implement trauma informed practices, it completely changes everything, Moran said. “You can see fewer behavior problems, higher student engagement and more academic achievement.”

The bill would require the Department of Education to award grants to schools to develop trauma-informed and systematic professional development for all staff who work with students. Preference would be given to schools within districts with large discipline disparities as identified by the Department of Human Rights.

Program specifics would be negotiated between the school board and teachers union and could include training on several trauma-related topics, extra professional development days, or outreach to students or families who have experienced trauma. 

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