Treating Trauma in Our Schools

April 22, 2014

photo_15343_173_245At NewSchools Summit 2014, we are covering big problems and actionable solutions. Given the increased focus on Social Emotional Learning in education circles, we wanted to discuss these critical skills and how they relate to students. SEL is a wide field however, so we decided to narrow our scope and center the conversation on those students dealing with adverse and extremely stressful experiences in their lives. Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child tells us that extreme stress, or toxic stress occurs when a child experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity—such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence, and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship—without adequate adult support. As we pursued this topic, one woman’s name came up over and over again, Dr. Joyce Dorado.

Dr. Dorado is the Co-Founder and Director of UCSF Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS), a program that aims to promote school success for children and adolescents who have experienced complex trauma. She is an Associate Clinical Professor in the UCSF-SFGH Dept. of Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Services (CAS). She is well-positioned to combine the brain science behind the effects of toxic stress with actionable steps to help children deal with these events in their lives. The HEARTS program works collaboratively with the San Francisco Unified School District to promote school success by decreasing trauma-related difficulties and increasing healthy functioning in students. Instead of punishing students who cannot cope with school due to their past experiences, HEARTS provides resources to help them adapt.

We are very interested in learning more about Dr. Dorado’s approach, especially because it works on multiple levels: school-based intervention and prevention with the student, training and support for the adults working with the students, and developing policies and procedures at the district level. We’re hopeful that this is program that will scale and provide relief for more children, helping them develop the skills they need to cope, and keeping them in school and learning.