June 14, 2017

Educators for Excellence-Chicago Teachers Present Plan to Better Address Student Trauma in Schools

Senator Dick Durbin, Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan voice support for greater focus on school climate, trauma-informed teaching

June 14, 2017 (Chicago) - Educators for Excellence-Chicago (E4E-Chicago), a teacher-led organization, released its policy paper, “Sounding the Alarm: Building the Climate and Culture our Students Need,” at an event that brought together over 150 Chicago educators and representatives from health care, criminal justice, education and city and state government to explore how Chicagoans can better support students struggling with issues such as citywide violence, food instability and homelessness. 

Last year, 324 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students under 16 were shot; more than 80 percent of current students come from low-income households; and an estimated 18,000 students were homeless at one point during the school year. More than 90 percent of Chicago educators surveyed by E4E-Chicago called for a greater focus on school climate and culture issues, as they directly impact student achievement and well-being. 

“Ignoring the reality that many of our students' face at home and in their neighborhood and focusing solely on academics isn't a viable answer,” said Uriah Knudson, an E4E-Chicago member, a teacher at Chicago International Charter School-Basil, and an author of the report. “Students who witness traumatic events, live in extreme poverty and are frequently subjected to stress can't always focus on a lesson or demonstrate model behavior. Our students need social emotional learning, restorative justice and targeted support so they can develop the tools they need to rise above their challenges.”

“This report is a call to action for how we can support our students facing violence and poverty,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said. “By identifying the resources and training needed to address trauma and toxic stress in our schools, we can improve academic success and give students a brighter future. That’s why I’ve introduced comprehensive legislation, the Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act, to bring federal resources to help equip our teachers to recognize the signs of trauma, build this knowledge into their classroom and make the workforce investments to support our children.”

“Sounding the Alarm,” which was authored by a diverse group of 18 teachers from across Chicago, makes the case that “the problems plaguing the climate and culture inside our schools [are] directly related to the many challenges our students face outside of our schools.” The teacher-created recommendations in the report aim to help educators better support students through these challenges and were informed by a survey of more than 900 educators across the system. 

“Supporting students with trauma is important in any school system, but especially here in Chicago, where many students are frequently exposed to violence,” said Marissa Duric, an E4E-Chicago member, a teacher at Henry Elementary School, and another author of the report. “If schools can become networks for social-emotional resources and the bedrock of adolescent well-being, then they will truly have a chance to become centers for academic success.”

The teacher-authors recommend that the district and school-based leaders focus on prioritizing A.C.C.E.S.S. in order to address the social-emotional health of students, the trauma impacting many of Chicago’s neighborhoods and the discipline practices in many schools:

  • Assess & Compile: Assess and compile resources that will allow schools to evaluate their current policies and practices and how they interact with the specific populations they serve, in order to make adjustments based on the needs of individual school communities;
  • Coordinate: Coordinate existing infrastructure, policies and systems to more directly establish school climate and culture as a priority at the district and school level;
  • Execute: Execute on the prioritization of school climate and culture by creating new frameworks and structures that support a school’s ability to address the needs of its student population and connect with families and the broader community; and
  • Support & Sustain: Support schools in obtaining and sustaining the resources, training and ongoing development necessary for their entire school community to prioritize school climate and culture.

Former United States Education Secretary and former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan thanked the teachers for their recommendations, saying, "We know that a lot of our children live with trauma and it affects their ability to learn. No one understands this better than our teachers and we should we do all we can, together, to act on their recommendations."

“These recommendations are grounded in teachers’ experience in the classroom while also taking into account the financial challenges our district faces,” said Acasia Wilson-Feinberg, E4E-Chicago Executive Director. “Because of this, ‘Sounding the Alarm’ focuses on practical recommendations, suggesting ways that the district and schools can use existing resources more strategically. Our students’ success hinges on our ability to come together as a city, commit to making school climate a priority and work together to achieve the practical, cost-conscious recommendations laid out in the report.”