A child well-being model of school reform

Friday, March 21, 2014

A stark juxtaposition of articles on the front page of the Sun on Feb. 16 underscores how radically we must rethink school culture: A disturbing article about workers' compensation claims made by teachers for child-inflicted injuries appeared above a report that Ceasefire โ€” a diversionary approach proven elsewhere to break the cycle of crime โ€” returns a decade after its first failed Baltimore effort. Young adults engaged with Ceasefire today will engage were the schoolchildren then. Children breaking teachers' legs today will occupy the program a decade hence, if we don't interrupt this cycle by putting child well-being at the center of school reform.

The chaotic conditions described as dangerous for teachers characterize the very places we expect our children to learn. Daily stressors inherent in inequality, racism and crime interrupt the learning process. In many cases, these stressors are compounded by school conditions and practices. High stakes testing, ineffective discipline policies and social conflict constitute triggers for the traumatic symptoms too common in urban schools. Certainly there are troubled children in our schools, but we allow our schools to become unhealthy places for children and adults alike. To break the cycle we must reduce what's been termed Complex-PTSD โ€” diminished well-being from protracted and prolonged stress and trauma.

We know that exposure to domestic and neighborhood trauma and loss affects learning. The Massachusetts Advocates for Children Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative identifies specific learning challenges for children exposed to trauma: receiving and retrieving information, social-emotional communications and problem-solving; organizing narrative; recognizing cause and effect; attentiveness to classroom tasks; taking another's perspective; executive functions; engaging in the curriculum; reactivity and impulse control; etc.

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