Two-thirds of the way through my second and final year at Addams Elementary, I felt like I was making decent progress with instilling the It’s About T.I.M.E. lens into the culture of the school. I had formed bonds of friendship and professional respect with much of the staff. I had life-changing interactions (for them and me) with hundreds of students. They were my Addams Family. Then, suddenly, it all came to a halt. March 13, 2020 (Friday the 13th, let me remind you) came suddenly and without warning.
Long Beach Unified School District halted in-person instruction immediately. No one knew for how long. Two weeks quickly turned into the rest of the school year. The Covid-19 pandemic changed the world practically overnight. I did what I could virtually to support the staff and students, as did my colleague Stevie McBride, LMFT at Barton Elementary.
We reached out to teachers and families directly, created videos and provided psychoeducation-consultation, encouragement, self-care and even fun activities and games. Despite the curveball Covid-19 threw at us all, I felt confident in the Addams’ staff to continue growing in their trauma-informed journey.
With Covid-19 seemingly not going anywhere anytime soon, the It’s About T.I.M.E. program in LBUSD faced uncertainty over the summer. Would in-person instruction return in the fall? Would students and staff be safe?
The decision was made for students to begin the school year 100 percent virtually. Although this felt safer, there was an added amount of stress for everyone involved including the students, teachers, counselors, administrative staff and parents. Highly stressed administrators guiding highly stressed teachers, trying to teach highly stressed students was a recipe for disaster. We have a large amount of real estate in our brains devoted to forming and maintaining relationships. Because of this, our emotional states are quite literally contagious.
A deliberate, calming, soothing, regulating presence needed to be added to this equation.
Covid-19 has only highlighted the need for a program like It’s About T.I.M.E. The pandemic had created a new level of stress for the whole world and magnified the stress of those already living with unimaginable burdens. Trauma isn’t the terrible things that happen to us; it’s what happens inside of us as a result of the overwhelming stressors we endure. If our stress levels have felt overwhelming the past several months, for whatever reasons, we’re experiencing a form of trauma. Our immune systems may be weaker. Our thinking may be clouded. Our emotions may be a bit more reactive. Understanding this—and being armed with tools to mitigate the effects of trauma –is vital in the world we live.
As Stevie begins his second year at Barton Elementary, I begin a new partnership with Lakewood High School. With close to 200 staff and over 3,000 students, how am I going to begin training and forming relationships virtually? I know the focus must be from a top-down approach. If I can build relationships and garner trust and respect from the administrative staff, I can provide them with trauma-informed training to then share with the faculty. Then, slowly, I can endear myself to the rest of the staff, providing training as I go.
The core concepts of It’s About T.I.M.E. help the administrative staff understand the importance of being mindful of their own stress levels and monitoring the stress levels of their faculty. The only way we’re going to get through this is by being intentional and deliberate in forming relationships.
We must be a community of support and regulation; a family. I can feel it forming already. Trust, respect, and friendships are beginning to bloom.
You can help support the It’s About T.I.M.E. program by making a donation during Long Beach Gives. For more information, please visit: bit.ly/GuidanceCenterLBG
Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, has worked as a Clinical Therapist at The Guidance Center for more than 10 years. In this role, Swaringen helped guide children and families toward positive and productive futures through mental health treatment. In 2016, Swaringen developed and launched our trauma-informed pilot program based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, called It’s About T.I.M.E. He is passionate about working with school staff to create nurturing environments where all students can thrive. Swaringen earned a Master of Social Work from University of Southern California, and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton.