The following comes from Teri Gartner, a recent Master of Social Work (MSW) graduate from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), after she and her student group trained with Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, clinical therapist and developer and lead of our It’s About T.I.M.E. (Trauma-Informed Movement in Education) program.
In our final year as MSW students, our capstone project was to assess a community within Long Beach, identify areas of strength and need, and develop an evidence-based project to address one of those needs. The need we discovered and chose to focus on in the 90813 zip code was an academic achievement gap when compared to neighboring regions.
Trauma-informed approaches have shown effectiveness at reducing academic achievement gaps by increasing knowledge of how trauma affects brain development and how it manifests in student behavioral challenges. This understanding leads to the development of a “trauma-informed lens” that increases empathy, patience, and unconditional love which pave the way for more effective approaches to treating behavioral challenges in the school setting. This also creates a more positive school climate in which students feel nurtured and supported. A more positive school climate serves to increase attendance rates while decreasing suspension and expulsion rates, thereby reducing educational achievement gaps.
Having attended The Guidance Center’s screening of Paper Tigers in 2016 at the Art Theatre and hearing Nathan Swaringen, LCSW speak on It’s About T.I.M.E., I knew he would be just the right person to help inform our project. Fortunately, my internship supervisor, Sheri Koller, previously worked for The Guidance Center and knew Nathan’s contact information.
Nathan volunteered his time, passion, and expert knowledge to train our group in the effects of trauma on the brain so that we could share that knowledge and understanding with the Washington Middle School community within the 90813 zip code.
With Nathan’s training, we developed a 45-minute training on trauma for Washington Middle School staff. From the school, 20 voluntary participants attended. Another group of MSW students utilized Nathan’s training by creating a parent-friendly version, and translating their training into Spanish to share with the 28 Spanish-speaking parents that attended.
In both trainings, school staff and parents learned about the diversity of trauma, its effects on brain development, how they as the adults in their children’s or student’s lives can apply this knowledge to facilitate greater emotional connections and relationships, and in turn see increased academic success.
In addition to Nathan’s support, this project was made possible with the help of Helen Makiridis, Assistant Principal at Washington, who provided the time, space, and recruitment of school staff and parents.
The following are a few responses we received after the trainings from participants:
“Trauma is not always obvious and the effects of it can come out in erratic behaviors.”
“It is not just the ‘bad’ that can create trauma, but the lack of ‘good’ that is experienced.”
“Traumatic behavior can be regulated through relationships.”