Baltimore City Public Schools
Adopting a Trauma Lense

Whenever the Thriving Communities Collaborative engages with the community to talk about being trauma aware and responsive, community members mention teachers or schools. Our children are in school interacting with teachers, administrators, service providers and staff, in many cases, up to half of their waking hours. It’s critical that our schools provide supportive, nurturing environments. By being trauma aware and responsive, our schools can move a long way toward achieving that goal.

Fortunately, Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) are already taking steps to become trauma informed. City Schools’ leadership realizes the value and importance of making the shift to adopting a trauma lens. They also recognize the importance of engaging all key stakeholders and working collaboratively across multiple functional areas. With roughly 84,000 students and a full-time staff of over 11,000 employees, it is no small undertaking to build a trauma-informed school system. The Planning Team spearheading this effort is composed of five key functional groups including the Office of Specialized Services, Office of School Supports, Office of College and Career Readiness, Office of Teaching & Learning, School Police, and Community-Based Mental Health Partners. The team is excited about collaborating and leveraging a trauma-informed approach to meet the school board’s #3 priority:

All students will learn in environments that embody a culture and climate of excellence, mutual respect, and safety.

The Planning Team initiated their efforts with training in trauma informed care. A training session for mental health professionals serving City Schools, held in October 2015, reached over 600 clinicians. Additionally, representatives from several city schools participated in the SAMHSA training sponsored by Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore and the Health Department as well as in the monthly SAMHSA training sponsored by Baltimore City. Moreover, in February 2016, every Baltimore City School dedicated a professional development day to trauma-informed training by holding an all-day session, “Introduction to Trauma-Informed Care and Building Positive Relationships.” City Schools will be utilizing a train-the-trainer, “climate leads” model to build capacity and reach school leaders, teachers, related service providers and paraprofessionals.

In addition to these early initiatives, one of the teams participating in the  Baltimore Breakthrough Series Collaborative, the ED PRIDE Program team, is from Baltimore City Schools.  A successful integration of trauma-informed principles within this group will provide a strong Baltimore-based model for thorough trauma-informed integration within City Schools.

Notably, the City Schools Planning Team understands the importance of getting school principals on board. They have held one SAMHSA training focused on helping principals to understand what trauma looks like in the school environment,  and they plan to host more initiatives with principals. Clearly, it’s necessary for each school’s leadership team to embrace a trauma-informed approach in order to thoroughly integrate the fundamental principles of safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment voice and choice; and sensitivity to cultural, historical, and gender issues throughout the school.

To place this work in context, the trauma-informed initiative is just one of the many initiatives underway in City Schools focused on school climate that will help them achieve the District 3 goal:

City Schools will have a respectful culture and climate and a collaborative environment that supports student achievement.

The trauma-informed initiatives, in combination with the work on Restorative Practices, and Character Development, are complimentary in helping to achieve City School’s overall goals around excellence and equity.  To further successful implementation, the Planning Team is in the process of putting together a go-forward strategy that includes:

  1. Developing and posting resources to be used by school communities including a trauma-informed care tutorial. This tutorial will help to assist in training new staff members and ensuring there are tools in place for understanding the fundamentals of creating a trauma-responsive climate.
  2. Working to incorporate trauma-informed care content and strategies into the annual “Abuse and Neglect” professional development for all social workers, who will then extend the training to all schools.
  3. Collaborate with the Positive Schools Center to develop the trauma-responsive educational practice portion of the school climate transportation collaboration.

City Schools clearly have a big task ahead of them, but TCC is excited that they have taken the first steps.The TCC hopes to complement these efforts as we further engage communities by working with them to facilitate the conversation around trauma-responsive approaches.

If you are interested in learning more about what a trauma-informed school might look like from schools that are further along, try and catch (or hold) a screening of the film, Paper Tigers, or take a look at some of the work being done by San Diego school principal, Godwin Higa.  He was a featured speaker at the 2015 Urban Health Institute Fourth Annual Symposium on the Social Determinants of Health, Healing Together: Community-Level Trauma It’s Causes, Consequences and Solutions.  The clearer version of the video shown in the first portion of the film can be found here.

We hope to be featuring examples from right here in Baltimore soon!

Thanks to Jim Padden, Claudia Lawrence-Webb and Rebecca Milburn for their assistance in completing this article.