Preparing Schools to Meet the Needs of Students Coping with Trauma and Toxic Stress

Micere Keels, Sonya Dinizulu, & Shipra Parikh | The University of Chicago

Breaking Down the Issue

  • Trauma disrupts the development of core cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral competencies that are needed to succeed in school.
  • Trauma is broadly experienced across the U.S. student population, but disproportionately concentrated among members of racially and ethnically marginalized and lower-income communities.
  • The pandemic has placed increased pressure on schools to provide mental health support, especially for schools serving racially and ethnically marginalized students, and those living in lower-income communities.
  • Many teachers and staff members report that they need more training in recognizing and responding to student trauma.

Strategies to Consider

  • Investments in staff mental health can improve outcomes for both students and staff members.
  • Whole-school (Tier 1) strategies for addressing trauma tend to be more effective than strategies that focus only on identifying individual students for secondary intervention.
  • A limited set of school-based trauma-focused Tier 2 interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in helping children and youth recover from traumatic experiences.
  • Schools can increase their capacity to meet the needs of students coping with trauma by creating a school-wide plan that includes all staff, in addition to family and community stakeholders.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Plans that place the burden for supporting students on clinical staff, such as school social workers and counselors, are unlikely to be effective.
  • One-shot awarenessbuilding professional development that doesn’t connect to strategies for how educators can respond to students’ needs are unlikely to lead to improved student outcomes.