School is back in session, in-person! Over the past few weeks, many schools across the country have opened their doors to welcome students back into the classroom. This highly anticipated return comes after an incredibly difficult year of grief, loss and isolation for children and families everywhere. Though the pandemic has been stressful for all – the past year has been particularly traumatic for students.
To equip educators with the tools necessary to support students, Dr. Evelin Gomez and her team have been implementing trauma-responsive trainings through the Kempe Center’s Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice (TRIP) program. As we approach an uncertain school year, we wanted to know the latest with the TRIP program and how they’re working with schools to support students in Colorado. We sat down with Dr. Gomez to get an update on what’s in store this fall.
When we talked to you in February, TRIP was making great strides. What’s the latest on the TRIP program?
Dr. Gomez: Since our last update, TRIP’s trauma-informed practice team has continued to connect with childcare professionals through our partnership with the Colorado Cross-Systems Training Institute (CSTI) and the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. This partnership has connected us to educators and administrators across the state. As school districts transition to in-person instruction, many teachers and administrators are overwhelmed.
Recently, we’ve begun performing consultations in school districts here in Colorado. These shorter sessions have given us an opportunity to adapt to the needs of the schools and look at our trainings in a new way. Going back to in-person instruction has been a challenging adjustment for students and teachers, so we’re trying to be sensitive to their needs while still sharing this essential training.
It’s important to acknowledge the pandemic’s lasting impact on youth mental health. Can you talk about how this intersects with your work?
Dr. Gomez: While many students have struggled with mental health and trauma in the past, it has only recently become a focus due to the pandemic. For the past few years, our team at TRIP has provided educators with tools to help students who are dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, loss and grief. We know these struggles aren’t new, but they’re magnified from the pandemic.
Because of COVID, students have experienced increased instances of isolation, separation and unfamiliarity. This was our collective experience. Though it is always essential to equip educators with tools to support students, we’re anticipating that staff and teachers will have an increased sensitivity and awareness of the mental health and traumatic effects of the past year. The social emotional component of learning that was previously reserved for subjects like English and social sciences will make its way into every subject. The trainings that we provide through TRIP will become the norm for schools across the country due to this increased awareness.
Take a moment to reflect on the last year. What have you and the TRIP team learned? Is there anything that really stands out to you?
Dr. Gomez: One of the most important takeaways from this year has been the importance of taking care of our teachers. A teacher’s job is difficult in a normal year. Every day, teachers are responsible for managing a classroom consisting of anywhere from 15-30 kids, each of whom has specific social and emotional needs. When you move this job online, things get more difficult. After the last year, many teachers left the profession because of burnout. For those who have stayed, it is essential that administrations provide them with adequate support to deal with the growing stress. When we give teachers the tools they need to feel heard and helped, they can return the favor to their students.
One story that really stands out to me is from our time with a school in the Montezuma, Cortez School District. In this district, the administration really took the time to build and enhance relationships with their teachers. They asked what the teachers needed to succeed, and they really listened.
When the teachers came back to school, they knew they had a leadership team who truly cared about them. By implementing small changes – hosting a yoga class for teachers, opportunities to eat together and discuss their work– the team grew stronger, and we hope that teachers were able to better support students.
What’s up next for the TRIP program?
Dr. Gomez: We are currently working with Chevron as a community sponsor to bring TRIP trainings to Weld County, CO and received support for TRIP through Larimer County Behavioral Health Services. As the year progresses, we’ll have a much more accurate understanding of what we’ll be able to accomplish in school districts both in and outside of Colorado. For now, we’ll continue to implement these programs in schools and behavioral health organizations in whatever capacity possible. We’re happy to be putting our expertise into practice with the professionals who work most closely with children and families.
The Kempe Foundation applauds the work of Dr. Gomez and the entire TRIP team. We’re excited to watch as they continue to build a more trauma-responsive environment for students in Colorado and beyond. To support TRIP’s work, give to the Kempe Foundation today.