After four years at Barton Elementary School and three years at Lakewood High School, the It’s About T.I.M.E. program is transitioning to two new schools, leaving Barton and Lakewood in competent and sustainable hands of their respective staff. All the while, expansion of the program continues. Two Guidance Center therapists were certified in Child Trauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education (NME), and are now serving as trauma informed consultants at Lindbergh Elementary School in Lynwood Unified School District. Also, nine Long Beach Unified School District employees, many working in significant roles of influence at the district level such as school psychology, special education, social emotional learning, and student support services, were certified in NME as well. This year-long training cohort has already positively informed academic policy districtwide. NME concepts were a large influence in the development of the ASPIRE program (Achieving Success through Positive Inclusive and Responsive Environments).
Despite being needed now more than ever, implementing trauma-informed philosophies and practices during and after the pandemic proved challenging. Distance learning, sheltering in place, isolation, fear, loss, sickness, financial stressors, and many other traumas devastated many students’ ability to learn and function in emotionally healthy ways. And even when they returned to in-person instruction, school still felt alien and different, with frequent COVID testing, modified schedules, and wearing masks. And this past year, with COVID seemingly in the rearview mirror, an anticipated, but unavoidable stressor emerged: remediating student learning loss and social-emotional challenges simultaneously. This was a very daunting task for educators to undertake. How can a dysregulated teacher simultaneously provide social-emotional safety, regulation, and healing with the looming demands of the impossible, teaching content that is beyond student capacity? We must be reminded of an overlooked truth to the work we do. Trauma-informed practices must be applied to the adults before one can expect the adults to be able to apply them to the students. Helping school staff make it through the day without emotionally or physically breaking down has been a large focus of our trauma-informed work these past few years.
Being a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader, friend, coach, and mental health consultant are everyday occurrences. Providing trauma-informed and neurosequential professional development trainings to staff are also regularities. In addition to ensuring basic survival of staff, the It’s About T.I.M.E. team has also implemented some truly impactful practices into their respective schools.
Here are some highlights:
- Providing trauma-informed neuroscience psychoeducation to high school students in science and health classes;
- Working with music and theater teachers to help students cope with trauma though poetry and drama;
- Modeling art therapy techniques for school administrators to utilize with students who need help expressing difficult feelings;
- Attending IEP and 504 meetings to advocate for students to be provided with trauma-informed accommodations;
- Running an attachment-based parent group to model for school staff community engagement;
- Working closely with an SEL TOSA (social emotional learning teacher on special assignment) to develop and implement curriculum to increase student identity;
- Empathy, and kindness, developing calming corners in almost every elementary classroom;
- Hosting parent engagement events such as reading nights and a turkey trot;
- And providing consultation to staff about student self-harm and suicidal ideation risk assessment.
It’s About T.I.M.E. staff do amazing work ourselves, but the true value is in the sustained competence and legacy we leave behind. We say goodbye to Barton Elementary and Lakewood High School and although the chapters at these schools have been written, the book is far from complete. Two new schools will be welcomed in the It’s About T.I.M.E. family this summer: Holmes Elementary and Lindbergh STEM Academy Middle School. From what we know so far, the partnership and work at these schools might be the best yet.
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.