Innovation Spotlight on St. Louis Public Schools: Targeting Trauma PD toward School Change Teams and Aligning Training and District Priorities

Even as recently as a few years ago, when talking about trauma-informed care, many principals in St. Louis had said “We don’t need it, our kids don’t experience trauma.” Through professional development, district staff were able to widen school leader’s perspectives, seeing its need and value.

St. Louis Public Schools partnered with Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis to provide trauma-informed programming within the schools. Each participating school identified a school change team. Made up of teachers, administrative staff (including principals) and support staff (e.g., social workers and counselors), these change teams attended a Trauma-Informed Programming in Schools (TIPS) training. The training helped explain why a trauma-informed lens was important to their school. The change teams then went back to their schools and facilitated a training modeled after the one they received for all school-based staff.

While the trainings helped school staff understand the importance of trauma-sensitive schools, they still felt unsure of what to do with that knowledge. Schools particularly struggled with the idea that even small changes could go a long way toward making them more trauma informed. For example, one part of the training covered the idea of “hot spots” (where students do not feel safe) and “cool spots” (where students do feel safe). In one school, they had a playground right next to the street, in which students did not feel safe without a barrier between themselves and the street. To address this concern, the school planted a set of evergreen bushes to enclose students. It was a relatively simple fix that made a significant difference based on students’ reactions. To support schools in making connections like these, the district provided consultants who helped teams identify the barriers and challenges to putting their training into practice.

The district also supported the implementation of strategies and practices described in the professional development by helping school staff across the district align trauma efforts. For example, SLPS developed a new strategic improvement plan which incorporated school climate improvement efforts to ensure that schools were supporting students’ physical and emotional health and safety. As part of those efforts, the district also specified developing trauma-informed schools as a strategy to promote equity in school transformation efforts. In addition, they provided a set of guidelines that specified what trauma-informed schools look like so that school staff could see across a range of areas whether they are putting these principles into practice.

For additional information and to request materials, please contact Megan Marietta, Manager of Social Services, at Megan.Marietta@slps.org.