North Carolina Resilience and Learning Project

Our Mission: To ensure the academic success and improve the social and emotional well-being of children impacted by trauma

View our latest Project update for this school year

What to do in the aftermath of a natural disaster to support families and reduce trauma

The NC Resilience and Learning Project works with high poverty schools across the state where trauma is prevalent in their student population. Our model is a whole school, whole child framework to create trauma-sensitive schools that will improve academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes for students.

How do we do this?

By working in schools to help create a school-wide culture shift so that instead of seeing a student and asking, “What is wrong with you?” we ask “What happened to you?” A culture shift begins by providing professional development and ongoing coaching with school teams that:

  1. Teaches and supports social/emotional or coping skills
  2. Builds a positive school climate with supportive relationships where kids feel physically and emotionally safe so they can focus on learning

The NC Resilience and Learning Project works with high poverty schools across the state where trauma is prevalent in their student population. Our model is a whole school, whole child framework to create trauma-sensitive schools that will improve academic, behavioral, and social-emotional outcomes for students.

How do we do this?

By working in schools to help create a school-wide culture shift so that instead of seeing a student and asking, “What is wrong with you?” we ask “What happened to you?” A culture shift begins by providing professional development and ongoing coaching with school teams that:

  1. Teaches and supports social/emotional or coping skills
  2. Builds a positive school climate with supportive relationships where kids feel physically and emotionally safe so they can focus on learning

Read the Committee on Trauma and Learning’s Full Report

The NC Resilience & Learning Project One-Page Infographic

THE RESEARCH

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study found that roughly 64% of the over 17,000 participants reported having at least one ACE.

ACEs include:

  • Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse
  • Physical and emotional neglect
  • Household dysfunction: home with mental illness, substance abuse, mother treated violently, divorce, or incarcerated relative

Research shows that ACEs can actually alter brain development and cause chemically toxic effects in the brain resulting in children remaining in a constant state of “survival mode” leading them to continuously have the fight, flight, or freeze response.

In addition to prevalence, the ACE study also looked at the impact that ACEs had on long-term mental and physical health outcomes. The study found that the more ACEs a child experiences, the higher their long-term risk of substance abuse, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and depression (Anda et al., 2006).

THE IMPACT

This results in major impacts in children in schools with learning, classroom behavior, and relationships. When a child experiences trauma, brain development may be impacted in a way that causes issues with a child’s ability to think and reason, ability to take in new information, memory, decision-making, and executive functioning – all functions needed for success and learning in school. Additionally, impacts are seen in behavior and emotion regulation; children with trauma often have difficulty regulating emotions which can lead to externalizing behaviors that include hyperarousal, defiance, and aggression or internalizing behaviors that include withdrawing, depression, and wanting to hide or be invisible.

These impacts are seen school-wide with discipline and academic achievement. Research shows that students who experience three or more ACEs score lower than their peers on standardized tests; are 2.5 times more likely to fail a grade; are 32 times more likely to be labeled as learning disabled; and are more likely to be suspended and expelled (Perfect et al., 2016).

EARLY FINDINGS

There is limited research and literature on trauma-informed schools models at this time, however, it is growing and early findings from other trauma-informed schools initiatives have shown success including:

OUR PROJECT

Our Project has two components:

  1. professional development for all school-wide staff
  2. and the formation of a steering committee (called Resilience Team) that meets regularly and receives ongoing coaching and technical assistance from project staff throughout the school year.

Professional Development

In-depth Resilience Team trainings starting at the beginning of the year to provide an overview of trauma and the impacts on children and learning as well as provide guidance in brainstorming a wide variety of trauma-sensitive strategies that can be implemented in schools.

A two-hour, all-staff training will be provided in each school to give an overview of trauma, the impact on students, and how to create trauma-informed schools. This training is not just for teachers but for every adult in the school building who interacts with students including cafeteria workers, custodians, all administrators and student support staff, and all teachers.

Resilience Teams

Teams will be formed at the beginning of the process and should be made up of a variety of school staff including the principal, student support staff such as the counselor or social worker, and teachers from various disciplines and grade levels.

Teams will meet bi-weekly and first work to identify areas of urgency within their schools that they see as common behavioral or academic challenges within their school. They will then begin creating and implementing school-wide, trauma-informed strategies. A Project staff member from the Forum will be a part of these meetings to provide coaching and technical assistance throughout the action planning process. This team serves as the champions of the work within the school.

2017-18 PILOT YEAR RE-CAP

The Forum established two district partnerships for the 2017-18 pilot year:

  • Edgecombe County Public Schools: Working in Stocks Elementary School & Pattillo Middle School
  • Rowan-Salisbury Schools: Working in Koontz Elementary School

A full year of Project implementation took place with all three schools receiving training and professional development throughout the year for their staff as well as Resilience Teams meeting twice a month with our Project coach to develop an action plan of strategies and monitor progress and change over the course of the school year. Some of the strategies implemented by the schools included:

  • Restorative practices around discipline and creating a reflection sheet for students sent to In School Suspension (ISS)
  • Check-in/check-out program for students with high numbers of office referrals to have a staff buddy that touched base with them every morning and every afternoon
  • Safe spaces in each classroom with self-regulation signs and sensory toys
  • A staff-wide self-care campaign to provide more support for staff and reduce burnout

A key component of the Project is to shift the culture and mindset of a school. This is a process that takes time but we do have some qualitative and anecdotal data from recent focus groups with Resilience Teams showing this shift:

“Instead of having a chaotic environment that feeds INTO the school, we are building an organized caring effort that extends OUT of the school.”

“When you see teachers chatting in the break room, it used to be just a venting session. Now they are problem-solving and brainstorming ideas.”

“Teachers feel more empathic and students notice it. Students are more respectful in class and have far fewer blow-ups.”

“Great for whole staff to have same information and understand possible reasons for misbehavior.”

“Facilitated resilience team meetings are critical to keep the work moving forward and on the front burner.”

“At the same time, great to have facilitators that let staff take the lead rather than telling them ‘what to do.’”

2018-19 EXPANSION

With new funding in 2018, we have been able to expand our work to a total of eight districts across the state and 17 new schools. We have also been able to hire two new regional staff who will serve as Project coordinators in different parts of the state to work in local districts. The districts we are working in this school year are:

  • Alamance-Burlington School System
  • Edgecombe County Public Schools
  • Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools
  • Greene County Public Schools
  • Halifax County Schools
  • Johnston County Public Schools
  • Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools
  • Rowan-Salisbury Schools

Work is underway with trainings and new Resilience Team meetings in each district.

MEET OUR PROJECT STAFF

Elizabeth DeKonty

Elizabeth DeKonty

Director, NC Resilience & Learning Project (based in Raleigh, NC)

Chanda Battle

Chanda Battle

Program Coordinator, NC Resilience & Learning Project (based in Eastern NC)

Christy Lockhart

Christy Lockhart

Program Coordinator, NC Resilience & Learning Project (based in Salisbury, NC)

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