About this time, two years ago, I nervously sat across a rectangular table at Beach High School from principal Troy Bennett and three of his right-hand-women: the assistant principal, the school counselor, and a teacher trained in CCEJ’s Restorative Justice Model. Sitting alongside me was The Guidance Center’s CEO, Patricia Costales, LCSW. The purpose of the meeting was to pitch my newly developed program, “It’s About T.I.M.E.” (Trauma-Informed Movement in Education) to this alternative education high school. I wanted to be able to communicate my ideas coherently and convincingly, while also interviewing them to determine if they would be a good fit for the program. Needless to say, all parties excitedly agreed that we were right for each other.
The fit has been so good that we have grown into a family. And not just a family of adults; I’m referring to the students too. We help each other, we care about each other, and we enjoy each other. We have worked together to build community and kinship…and healing. The healing is mutual, so pause for a moment and understand.
One’s mind’s-eye may envision a caring adult compassionately addressing a student’s emotional needs. That happens, every day, many times a day. Now envision an adult taking the time to show compassion and support to a fellow adult in need, sharing their struggles and helping them through their day.
Finally, envision a student whom the adult knows carries unfathomable emotional burdens, approaching this adult with his head held high with tremendous pride, smiling and excited to share the news of getting his first job.
Why is this a big deal? Because he doesn’t have any other caring adults in his life with whom to share his joy. How is this healing to the adult? It is healing because it confirms the healing power of kindness and taking the time to show someone that they matter. It feeds the bleeding heart with hope. It dispels the nagging voice in our heads that sometimes inaccurately suggests that some people are beyond help. It’s confirmation to the adult that we matter too.
It’s About T.I.M.E. is designed to be a two year training model, developing sustainability in the form of a lasting culture shift and trauma-informed lens once the consultant has moved on to another school. Saying goodbye to my Beach family is excruciatingly difficult for me. But I leave knowing my program is in good hands, and caring hearts.
Without me, my Beach family can continue to provide the students with compassion, patience, understanding, and creative ways of regulating with calming sensory activities. I see them in action every week, implementing and integrating NME (Child Trauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education) principles with their Restorative Justice, and Safe and Civil practices.
There are too many stories to tell of my time at Beach. There is tremendous laughter. There are deep, revealing conversations between students and caring adults of subject matter so painful the student had never dared tell anyone until then. There is pride and encouragement of students finding the motivation and confidence to care about themselves enough to succeed academically. There are student harsh words, tears, apologies and gratitude towards caring adults for understanding that they sometimes need to be loved the most when they deserve it the least because that is when they need it the most. These various occurrences happen regularly, and they will continue to occur once I’m gone.
The school is thriving and I couldn’t be more proud.
As some things come to an end, others continue, and others get a chance to begin. Luckily, I have another family at Poly PAAL High School. As my first year with them comes to an end, I am excited to see the growth of a trauma-informed community between staff and students. Much like Beach, there are too many stories to tell at PAAL of laughter, tears, pride, and reconciliation. This foundation will continue to grow, next year, and beyond, when it will be time for me to say goodbye to my PAAL family as well.
Next fall I will grow with a new family, as It’s About T.I.M.E. comes to Jane Addams Elementary. I recently met with Mr. Duenas, Addams’ principal, along with the school counselor, and school psychologist to gauge the fit of my program with this family. I left that meeting feeling utterly elated. And this feeling was mutual.
It’s rare that a group of adult administrators come together with everything that everyone says aligning perfectly, spawning a surging excitement and optimism. I won’t assert the cliché of “some things being meant to be”, but I’ll tell you this. Mr. Duenas explained that less than an hour before I called to introduce myself and pitch my program, he was feeling extremely frustrated and deflated, lamenting how in need his students and staff were of a trauma-informed program. He couldn’t believe the timing of my call.
My response? “It’s About T.I.M.E.,” of course.
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.