Before Mitch McCann and Jazmine Salach‘s Fund for Teachers fellowship, teachers at KIPP Endeavor in Kansas City felt ill equipped to serve their students identifying as homeless, experiencing abuse and/or living in foster care. Now, the FFT Fellows serve as a beacon to both students and staff after investigating trauma intervention strategies at the 15th European Congress of Psychology Conference in Amsterdam.
“My work for the past four years has shown me that even the most tenured and well-meaning teachers are not suitably prepared to reach students struggling with traumatic events in their lives,” said Mitch. “By and large, we were failing our students because we were not teaching the whole child.”
For one week last July, Jazmine and Mitch met with professors from the Child Development and Education Department at the University of Amsterdam to discuss instructional strategies that reinforce children’s learning processes. Their research was then supported by the conference, which featured experts on life-changing events, strengthening resilience and effective psychological interventions. Breakout sessions provided opportunities to learn best practices from global peers and purchase books that help students understand their emotions. The fellowship concluded with site visits to two progressive elementary schools and one special education school to gain more insight on how European schools deal with trauma in the classroom.
“Trauma affects our students in various ways, and it was difficult for me to do research on my own without knowing what to look for,” said Jazmine. “The presentations given at the conference were small-scale, easy to digest, and gave a more in-depth snapshot on topics that I was interested in and now daily impact my instruction.”
Upon their return to Kansas City, the teaching team created a Trauma Task Force at their school. Training on Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) and student support strategies now help teachers better understand their students, and the school is discussing plans to become a trauma-informed campus. Jazmine participates in a Student Support Team, which identifies students who have experienced high levels of trauma and collaborates with grade-level teams to develop individualized assistance. This spring, KIPP Endeavor will also begin incorporating sensory carts (paid for with funds remaining from the FFT grant) for students who need extra space to feel safe but can remain in the classroom to avoid missing instruction.
“By better understanding where students are coming from and proactively assisting my students in dealing with past and current trauma, they are: 1) remaining in the classroom 2) more successful academically 3) learning adaptive strategies on dealing with their trauma and 4) becoming healthier, more productive individuals,” said Mitch. “In leading development of my colleagues to do the same, it makes our whole school team and family a better place to work and learn.”