A school-wide mindset shift was one of several key changes that Greene County Intermediate School’s (GCIS) assistant principal, Taylor Moore, said has made a big difference in his school’s journey toward becoming trauma-sensitive.
“It has really been all about the mindset shift and the willingness for staff to take the time to peel back the layers with students to better understand what happened versus always just asking why and moving quickly to punishment,” said Moore.
Greene County Intermediate, located in Snow Hill, NC — a short drive west of Greenville — has a student population that is classified as 70 percent economically disadvantaged and nearly all students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch. Trauma has had a significant impact on students and the school as a whole, and school leaders knew it was time to change course and better prepare students to regulate their emotions and implement new tools for teachers and students to develop stronger relationships.
“So often, schools focus more on actual strategy implementation without first seeking a better understanding of the “why” behind student behavior,” said Elizabeth DeKonty, director of the NC Resilience and Learning Project. Working alongside Principal Jada Mumford, Assistant Principal Moore and their staff at GCIS this year, DeKonty said the school’s leadership recognized that these conversations take time and energy when the easier response would be to just punish students, removing them from the school or the classroom, without further conversation or understanding.
Instead, the Resilience Team at GCIS developed an arsenal of tools to help educators break through to students in new and highly effective ways:
- Integrated a social-emotional learning curriculum into every classroom, some using Second Step and others using Sanford Harmony;
- Created calm-down corners in every classroom and provided teachers with specific training on how to set them up and model them with students effectively;
- Implemented Mind Yeti, an app that offers guided mindfulness sessions to help kids calm down and focus their attention, as a tool to provide brain breaks during transition times;
- Encouraged administrators to use new restorative questions in conversations with students during office referrals;
- School counselor and social worker empowered to lead social-emotional learning groups for students needing extra support and skill building;
- Started a check-in/check-out program selecting certain teachers to serve as mentors/special buddies for a selected group of individual students who need additional support and connection; and
- The district provided a new mental health therapist one day a week for their highest need students.
The results Greene County Intermediate saw this school year by taking this extra time with students have been nothing short of phenomenal. For students receiving referrals, there’s been a more than 50 percent decrease, as well as a more than 50 percent decrease in students receiving in-school or out-of-school suspensions.
In addition to this mindset shift around student behavior, Principal Mumford feels like the tools they now have in place have better equipped staff to support students and teach them the self-regulation skills so many of them have been missing. Some examples include Mind Yeti, an app that provides short mindfulness lesson videos; calm-down spaces with regulation strategies; and a tailored social-emotional learning curriculum. Teachers have been empowered to incorporate all of these resources into their classrooms each day.
GCIS’ Resilience Team believes the next step in their journey toward a trauma-sensitive school is to put more resources in place for those with the highest number of referrals and behavioral challenges and who need the most support with social-emotional skills. This work has gotten a head start with the arrival of a new mental health therapist, but the team is hoping to create a new behavior plan for teachers who have students that need that highest level of support that other school-wide tools won’t always address.
What were the top three ingredients for success this year — the kind of success that means in-school suspensions and referrals were cut in half? Leadership readiness and buy-in from the district as well as from the leadership at GCIS and the entire Resilience Team, focusing on that “mindset shift” to get behind the why of student behavior, and a whole school’s willingness to be creative and try new things.