June 6, 2024

How Trauma-Informed Models Support Learning for All

By Transcend

Young people are experiencing mental health challenges at an unprecedented rate, including high levels of emotional distress, anxiety, and depression. Research suggests that 25% of young people will experience at least one traumatic event by age 16, which can have significant impacts on their learning and development.

In response, schools and systems are seeking codified practices they can implement to support the needs of their learning community. But what does it mean to be trauma-informed, why is it so important, and how can schools implement these practices?

Read on to learn more about trauma-informed approaches and how models featured on the Innovative Models Exchange use them to foster positive relationships, resilience, and healing.

Incorporating Trauma-Informed Practices in Schools

Trauma-informed practices recognize and respond to the impacts of trauma by creating an environment that is safe and nurturing for students, staff, and families. These practices acknowledge the prevalence of trauma in our society and its impacts over the span of one’s life and across developmental domains, taking a holistic approach to support well-being.

When implementing trauma-informed practices, it’s important to consider each student’s uniqueness, including which students might need more or less support. Universal, preventative practices can be used with all students, while targeted interventions can be available to those significantly impacted by trauma. Using multiple tiers of support acknowledges that students differ and enables staff to respond to those differences appropriately.

Preventative Supports for All Students

Universal preventative supports lay the foundation for safe environments that promote wellness for all students, staff, and families. These supports are delivered to everyone, are proactive in nature, and are necessary to support interventions across all other tiers. Strong practice includes school-wide programs that build social and emotional competencies, develop positive relationships, support mental and physical health, and more.

Adelante Student Services from ARISE High School, Compass from Valor Collegiate Academy, and The Parent Program from The Primary School use practices like advisory and circles, among others, to build safe and trusting communities. For example, The Parent Program—a model designed to support the well-being of parents as well as their children—engages all parents in Monthly 1:1 Coaching Calls and Parent Circles. During Parent Circles, groups explore new concepts, share skills and resources that have helped them progress toward their goals, and support one another.

“Processing trauma and hardship takes much longer in isolation,” says Treyvion Foster, Senior Manager of Design and Dissemination at The Primary School. “When people are in safe, supportive relationships with peers, they are able to experience post-traumatic growth at a more transformational pace. We have designed our program to be grounded in building and maintaining peer relationships and deepening them through connecting over shared experiences.”

Building students’ social and emotional competencies is also important. Whole-Bodied Education from Girls Athletic Leadership Schools (GALS) nurtures these competencies through the GAL Series, a homegrown social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum that focuses on female adolescent development and empowerment. This daily practice provides a space for girls to explore topics like self-esteem, healthy relationships, assertiveness, leadership, and more.

“By fostering connections with peers and female role models, the program can help girls build confidence, resilience, and a sense of belonging,” shares Vanessa Garza, Executive Director and Founding Principal of GALS. “Through sisterhood we are able to create a supportive community where girls uplift and empower each other.”

Targeted Support for Many

Additional trauma-informed practices can be incorporated to provide some students with tailored support. Examples include offering increased instruction and practice with social and emotional skills, small-group interventions like Group Counseling from the St. Benedict’s Model and Small Group Work from The Arthur Project, restorative justice circles, and a range of therapeutic interventions like Biofeedback Breathing from the Rural Opportunity Institute (ROI).

Therapeutic interventions like ROI’s Biofeedback Breathing program are designed to help students manage stress and navigate challenges they are facing. Through this program, young people track their biofeedback and learn breathing techniques to control their heart rate variability (HRV), which, in turn, can help them to control how their emotions impact their body and behavior.

“It’s essential to understand trauma as unmetabolized energy trapped in the body, which affects our nervous system,” shares Seth Saeugling, Co-founder of Rural Opportunity Institute. “Our nervous system has different ‘zones’ or circuits…[and] these circuits influence whether our ‘thinking brain’ is online, which is crucial for learning and processing information. Being trauma-informed means recognizing these states and developing skills to respond effectively to unaddressed trauma.”

Intensive Intervention for Some

Trauma-informed models also offer intensive, individualized interventions to students experiencing significant distress or mental health challenges. Practices can include access to wraparound services, individualized extrinsic reward systems, and child-specific strategies, among other evidence-based interventions.

For example, wraparound services from models like Da Vinci RISE High from Da Vinci Schools and The Rites of Passage Program from The Brotherhood Sister Sol (BroSis) seek to connect students to in-house and outside services to support their overall health and well-being. In the Rites of Passage Program, Chapter Leaders act as case managers, connecting young people with the services they need.

“At BroSis, we believe that all youth deserve holistic, wraparound support, and we have built a strong community of people and resources to provide for them,” says Brittany Reyes, Senior Manager for College, Career, and Wellness at BroSis. “We have lawyers who will represent them if they have legal issues, we have therapists who will support them with any mental health concerns, and we have an emergency financial assistance fund that will support any monetary needs.”

Individualized student supports like those from the BARR model and the Whole Child Model provide young people services based on comprehensive data, analysis of a child’s behavior, and personal trauma histories. In the Whole Child Model, students who need a “boost” in order to thrive receive individualized support called “Boosts,” which can help grow their sense of safety and connection at school and build skills like self-regulation. “These strategies keep students safe, allow them time to reflect and repair, and teach students appropriate behavior rather than punishing them,” shares Cynthia Robinson-Rivers, founder of the Whole Child Model and Managing Partner at Transcend.

Explore Trauma-Informed Models

The Innovative Models Exchange has several models that embed trauma-informed practices:


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