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Making the ‘unseen’ visible: Tackling trauma in schools

by CTU Research  |  09/20/2017

It's time for CPS to stop starving our schools of desperately needed trauma resources.

Trauma is a dominant issue in our school communities, and one that can range from healing from the death of a student to supporting a child whose parent has been deported. Trauma puts an enormous responsibility on educators to serve as healers for our school communities, and demands adequate resourcing from the top administrators who run CPS.

Adequately resourced schools provide students and educators with comprehensive systems of trauma support—from clinical services to classroom interventions—all built on a platform of comprehensive socio-economic learning. Yet CPS, which typically touts its superficial concern about the issue of trauma, has actually cut rather than provided the real resources that our students and staff need to tackle trauma within the school environment.

A majority of our students live in neighborhoods characterized by the drivers of trauma: high levels of poverty and unemployment, lack of affordable housing, neighborhood instability, and the violence and social discord that is driven by these conditions. The failure to address trauma in our schools can lead to lifelong learning deficits and undermine students’ well-being—outcomes that can be mitigated with adequate staffing and real resources for students and educators.

Yet CPS provides barely 20 percent of the social workers recommended by the National Association of Social Workers. Psychologists, school nurses and counselors are in desperately short supply as well, and always on the chopping block when CPS is looking for ways to "cut costs." At the same time, class sizes in Chicago are among the highest in the state, thwarting educators’ abilities to provide students with the attention and aid they need to address trauma.

We need to challenge—and change—this chronic lack of resources. We can support this goal by helping members of our school communities understand the drivers and consequences of unaddressed trauma, and encouraging them to support meaningful steps to address these needs.

UNSEEN: STUDENTS’ TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES, a short report by the CTU’s education policy team, gives readers a quick snapshot of what trauma looks like in our school communities and how effective programs to address trauma should work in our schools. It’s built on hard data, measurable outcomes and effective programs in other parts of the nation that we can use right here in Chicago.

Please read and share this report with parents, community residents, allies and public officials. Use it as a tool to jumpstart discussions in your schools and your communities about bringing truly adequate resources to the table and building a just and sustainable city grounded in the value of each of our students and all of our neighborhoods.

Chicago Teachers Union