Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh) introduced a proposal that would establish programs to help primary school students who were victims of trauma.
The trauma-informed system of education would require trauma-informed training for school board members, educators and school employees with direct contact with students. The goal is to improve the recognition of the signs of trauma in students, follow best practices for trauma-informed schools and classrooms, and create policy to improve positive schoolwide behavior supports, restorative justice and resiliency among students. The legislation also aims to create curriculum and would authorize research on the effects of trauma to students, which would assist with policy proposals.
“We know trauma has a negative impact on children and now it is time to act and help our students succeed,” Senator Hughes said. “Studies show just how detrimental trauma can be to student mental health and behavior, but research and new policy initiatives give us a way forward in observing, assessing and helping to treat victims of trauma. Helping our students with empathy, compassion and understanding may be the only chance the children affected may ever have to work through their pain. We owe it to them to provide a better future educationally and emotionally.”
Senators Browne and Hughes announced the proposal following an Appropriations Committee meeting Tuesday at Temple University, during which testimony on the Healthy and Safe Schools Initiative (HSSI) was given. The HSSI initiative looked at improving the climate and safety at Bethune and Kenderton elementary schools, as well as the Hunting Park and East Tioga areas that surround the schools. From that initiative, three successful evidence-based prevention and intervention models will be implemented to create a unified, school-based trauma informed program that will address school and neighborhood climate and safety, along with behavioral health to support children exposed to trauma.
Senator Browne, who co-chaired the hearing with Senator Hughes, noted that the report found that 45 percent of the adults who lived in zip codes near the schools reported four or more adverse experiences during childhood.
“Trauma informed education is a relatively new conversation and model being discussed in Harrisburg. Conversations like we had here today at Temple University, help us, as legislators, understand the challenges students who have experienced traumatic events and situations face, not only in their home life, but also at school,” Senator Browne said. “It is critical to hear from educators, experts and individuals with direct knowledge of how trauma affects a student’s ability to learn and become a productive member of the Commonwealth’s workforce. That testimony and those experiences help us understand how best to accommodate and support students dealing with very difficult situations.”
Browne and Hughes authored Senate Bill 1142, school safety legislation, which was signed into law and is now known as Act 44. Both Senators have pledged to push for increased safety through mental health awareness and see trauma-informed education as a natural next step in the process of a long-term conversation to improve Pennsylvania schools.
During Tuesday’s hearing, expert testimony explained anecdotally referred to some of the trauma students may face, ranging from the clearer examples of trauma where violence and abuse occur to less obvious scenarios where a child may have a leaky roof and cannot leave home without being drenched by water falling from the ceiling.
“These are things that prevent children from learning,” said Dr. Katherine Reeves, who headed the study on trauma-informed education. She added that many educators want to break the cycle of having struggling students, but don’t know how. She and other experts who testified were adamant that trauma-informed education initiatives are a must to make a difference in student lives. Senator Hughes thanked researchers and participating organizations, including the Pennsylvania NAACP for championing the expansion of trauma-informed education for children.
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