A group of educators and social workers representing 16 Chicagoland schools gathered last week at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ West Loop Campus for a two-day workshop on using trauma-informed strategies to build resilient schools.

As a component of our Mercy Model in Schools initiatives, the workshop focused on enhancing educators’ skills around understanding and responding to students who have been impacted by trauma and adversity. Participants received a thorough introduction to the trauma-informed care and skills that Mercy Home coworkers use to develop resiliency in the youth who live at Mercy Home.

Professionals from Mercy Home and outside agencies provided their expertise on how to apply trauma-informed approaches in building safe and predictable school environments.

As well, participants examined the landmark ACE study on adverse childhood experiences and how those experiences impact the classroom. The study found that the more “ACEs” a person experiences, the greater the risk for life-threatening diseases, substance abuse, lower life expectancy, and other challenges.

Alice Viana, a social worker with Chicago Public Schools, found the workshop productive and looks forward to introducing her coworkers to trauma-informed care.

“I work in neighborhoods where a lot of students face some sort of trauma or adversity,” she said. “As a social worker, I’m excited to go back to the school with some tools that I can present to my staff on how to approach those students.”

Viana added that she is very interested in how trauma affects the brain.

“It’s important for educators to know that there’s some real hard wiring that’s gone on, and that some of the behaviors we see are a result of past trauma,” she said.

Zachary Waggoner, a first-grade teacher at Herzl School of Excellence, came to the workshop with a coworker. He said, last year, the climate at his school was volatile and teacher turnover was high.

“We’re trying to find the angle of how we can create a school environment that is safe, where kids want to come and learn, and how we as staff can come together to do that,” he said. “We came here to learn the strategy, so we can introduce that to our school. I absolutely think that using a trauma-informed approach is a way to address these issues.”

Topics discussed included responding to challenges in the classroom, educator compassion fatigue, and using mindfulness in the classroom, as well as restorative justice in action and getting curious about student behavior.

Andrea Rosenberg, Academy Supervisor of Mercy Model in Schools, said she was excited to have so many educators express interest in bringing trauma-informed care into their classrooms and schools.

“Our aim was to provide them with knowledge and skills to be able to help all students in their classrooms,” she added. “A big focus of the workshop was to impress upon educators how important and crucial it is to build appropriate and safe relationships with students.”

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