Through the new initiative, KCPS leaders are trying to help students overcome trauma they face outside classroom walls.
“It could be abuse, it could be living in a violent neighborhood, and that impacts your whole body, your psychological, your physical and your emotional being and we can't shut that off when we walk through the door,” KCPS Mental Health Director, Molly Ticknor said. "So if we create a system, where everyone feels supported, where there's a sense of safety and trust in the building, for everyone. Regardless if I'm a teacher, a principal, a parent, a student or anybody that walks in, we are more apt to feel safe."
Ticknor says it’s an initiative that didn’t happen overnight.
“Even before I got into the district, for the past seven years, we've been really trying to focus on the social and emotional needs and now we have great momentum,” she said.
Ticknor says with there being 40 schools in the district, they needed to start incrementally. KCPS administrators decided to start with three pilot schools.
“Kansas City Public Schools was able to receive a Federal grant to fund the initiative so we can really bring in a coach or a consultant into each of the three pilot schools that were selected to be there full time, to help them support the social, emotional needs of the students," Ticknor said.
One of those pilot schools is Garfield Elementary.
Kathi Frey is a first grade teacher at Garfield. She’s been an educator for 30 years and says this initiative is needed.
“It should be in every school, everywhere, not just in our district but across the board,” she said.
Frey, who’s preparing for parent teacher conferences, says through this trauma-sensitive initiative, it’s something that’s not just for students.
“I think the trauma initiative offered the teachers wonderful training and just understanding the effects trauma can have on everyone's life so we kind of looked at it like starting with ourselves and kind of digging deeper,” Frey said. “We got a lot of activities where we kind of unpacked our own triggers and things that might make us react to certain things in our lives and ultimately in our classrooms.”
She says through this, there’s been a better understanding of where some students are coming from.
“It's made a huge difference I think on calming challenging behaviors,” Frey said. “We've learned a lot of strategies on how to help that child cool off.”
Ticknor says KCPS hopes to add three more schools for this initiative next school year.
“Becoming a trauma sensitive school does not happen over night, and that's why we're going incrementally,” Ticnkor said. “Our end goal is that every school in our district is a trauma sensitive school. That our kids and our families and our staff love to be here, that our kids feel like they can be with anyone in the schools, that they have a connection with each other, that we really have created an environment that feels safe.”
The other two pilot schools are J.A. Rogers Elementary and Hartman Elementary.
This summer, KCPS mental health administrators will head to St. Louis to present at the inaugural trauma-informed schools