Nathan Swaringen, LCSW often excitedly tells community members about his work in the It’s About T.I.M.E. (Trauma Informed Movement in Education) program. When asked how he enjoys the role he exclaimed, “I love what I do!” However, he also recognizes that this program is needed because some children experience significant traumas and struggles.
Trauma is often associated with poverty, neighborhood violence, food insecurity and housing instability. “I see these things every day in Long Beach,” said Nathan. Living in poverty, witnessing or hearing about violent crime, having little to eat or no place to call home all have negative impacts on one of children’s core needs: the need to feel safe. When children do not feel safe, they often have difficulty connecting with others. Additionally, when traumatic experiences or hardships persist, the area of the brain responsible for learning and social and emotional functioning shuts down. The brain neglects these activities because its central focus is to figure out how to survive.
“It’s not just what’s going on in a child’s life that helps them determine whether or not they’re safe, things that are going on in the world cause them to reevaluate their safety,” Nathan shared.
Within the last year, there have been numerous local and national tragedies involving violence and abuse. These events are impactful. “Children hear about the most recent tragedy, and they are afraid it will happen again. They are afraid it will happen where they live or to those they love.” These feelings, when not addressed appropriately, can disrupt a child’s neurological functioning.
“Being able to help educators understand concepts like these and working with the entire school to identify ways to best support students makes me hopeful. This is why I love what I do.”
P.A.A.L. (Poly Academy of Achievers and Leaders)
After two years of It’s About T.I.M.E. at P.A.A.L., Nathan wrapped up his work at the school. “It was hard to say goodbye to them, but the work we did together will continue to help students succeed,” said Nathan. He also formed friendships with the staff and had a lasting impact on the school. He helped administrators at P.A.A.L. understand that while It’s About T.I.M.E. is based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, it is not just about techniques or interventions. This program is about connecting with people, especially those who are suffering, and helping them feel safe.
Following Nathan’s departure, Lloyd Wilson, former Dean of Students at P.A.A.L. shared a reflection with Long Beach Unified School District teachers and administrators:
“Nathan Swaringen is a school-based clinical social worker and developer and lead of It’s About T.I.M.E (The Guidance Center, Long Beach) who stresses the importance and value of understanding how the brain forms and functions in relation to its environment. Trauma changes the way the nervous system interprets and reacts to the sensory information it gathers from the world. Educators often see this outwardly expressed as disruptive behaviors in the classroom. The trauma informed approach encourages educators to view these challenging behaviors as emotional dysregulation. The hope is to use safe, nurturing and sensory regulating interactions with these students as the behaviors arise.”
It’s About T.I.M.E. supplemented existing practices and programs at P.A.A.L. to produce some astounding data. The rate for overall suspensions dropped to 3.3 percent, chronic absenteeism dropped 10 percent and the rate for overall attendance saw a 3 percent increase.
Nathan began his work at Addams last year, and as he says, “the work has only just begun.”
Staff at Addams were able to identify students who had difficulties learning, regulating emotions, regulating their bodies and appropriately interacting with others (i.e. sharing, taking turns, and being respectful and polite). However, some did not understand why these behaviors occurred or how trauma might be connected. Nathan said understanding this is essential. “When we know why children act this way and understand that trauma often impacts or drives these behaviors, it informs how we respond. After learning about the neurological effects of trauma, people begin to respond with compassion.” A trauma informed school is able to identify how trauma has affected students. Additionally, trauma informed schools are able to support students who are struggling by using compassion, empathy, patience, and It’s About T.I.M.E. tools.
Also, last year, the staff at Addams started utilizing proactive, somatosensory and regulatory techniques and interventions to help students. Examples of these are meditation, mindfulness, dancing and breathing exercises. Educators also used their trauma informed tools to implement other beneficial practices and activities for the students.
“As a parting gift at the end of the year, I gave each of my students a slow-rising squishy tool. They were so excited to have their own tool for the summer. They were also practiced in guided meditation followed by art journaling, which many planned to continue on their own in the MESSAGE FROM MY HEART sketchbooks that we started. None of that would have been possible without the education and support of Team Nathan and the It’s About T.I.M.E. Program,” a teacher at Addams shared.
The qualitative data from year one at Addams showed minor changes in attendance and discipline. Nathan is looking forward to working with the staff and students for one more year. “Seeing the Addams family continue to incorporate strategies to help students heal and succeed is so exciting! These techniques help students feel safe, connected, valued and supported. Once they feel these things, the possibilities are endless,” Said Nathan.
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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.