The pandemic has reminded us how crucial, and fundamental relationships are for our mental, emotional, physical, and societal health. Relationships heal.

A grass-roots approach to creating a “trauma-informed movement in education” has shown to be a powerful vehicle in supporting those impacted by trauma. The ability to spark systemic change, however, requires a higher reach and top-down influence.

As advanced trainers in Child Trauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education (NME), I along with Stevie McBride, LMFT, It’s About T.I.M.E. Consultant, can now train and certify others in NME. What does that mean and how is it different from previous trauma-informed instruction? Consultation has always been based on NME principles, but now school staff can enroll in the in-depth training and certification process themselves, to become as competent in NME as a consultant.

This past February, It’s About T.I.M.E. began its first NME training cohort from Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), comprised of nine district-level educators in various fields of influence from school psychology, counseling, special education, and social-emotional learning. NME certification is a 9-10 month intensive learning journey, with dozens of hours of independent study and research. It is a privilege to lead a group of influential educators, who, despite being at their mental and emotional bandwidth limit due to the stressors of the past couple years, are willing and eager to learn. By this fall, these nine LBUSD staff members will be certified in NME, and with this knowledge, will be capable of tremendous influence in policy and practices that can effectively understand, mitigate, and heal trauma. The education system cannot, and should not go back to “normal,” because what lies ahead is much better.

A top-down approach is so crucial, and exciting, because neither trauma-informed practices nor NME are interventions, per se. There isn’t a manual or specific curriculum for healing trauma, either in the individual or the community. Healing trauma is about a culture shift, an entire campus on the same page, committed to doing things differently. A “trauma-informed” school is not one whose staff has attended conferences, took trainings, or bought a book. There is no box to check. Having a “trauma expert” on a campus or a few staff members who took a training is a great start, but real change requires a universal voice, a message dictating policy and practice. Things weren’t okay pre-pandemic, and they are certainly worse post-pandemic. When district leaders volunteered to be trained in a model that offers solutions to long-standing problems, and were equally excited to learn how to heal broken systems and communities, their words carry weight:

“By helping educators understand the core of behavior, the relationship of how it impacts learning and practical ways to teach even those that are hardest to reach, it is a game changer for our educational system.  NME gives us a scientifically based understanding from which to see each other and new perspective that provides hope in the power of human connection to help students fulfill their full potential.” – Claudia Sosa-Valerrama, Director of Student Support Services, LBUSD

“Schools need NME. It’s crucial to break the pattern of marginalizing our most vulnerable students and building school culture that embraces all students. NME empowers staff to see our students through an entirely different lens.” – Marisol Ibáñez-Tintorer, School Counselor, Lafayette Elementary

Understanding children through a trauma-informed lens goes hand in hand with LBUSD’s focus on creating a culture and climate for all students that promotes equity and justice. By embracing this approach, district leaders now have the opportunity to implement real systems change.

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.

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