I recently heard about the documentary SKIDS from Hanna of The Bullsh*t Positivity Project. It focuses on kids attending Vanguard Secondary in Langley, B.C., Canada, which is not far from where I live.
Vanguard Secondary is an alternative school that takes a trauma-informed approach, recognizing that trauma is at the root of the significant challenges that have kept their students from succeeding in regular schools. Their model is informed by biopsychosocial systems theory, neuroplasticity, and the effects of trauma on the autonomic nervous system.
The school has therapeutic groups, and each student has an individual education plan, a safety plan developed by the school counsellor, and a youth and family support caseworker. There are also Aboriginal support workers, a drug and alcohol counsellor, and clinicians who are able to provide EMDR therapy. In-school suspensions are available in recognition that there may not be a safe environment outside of school. Students get referred when other schools in the district find them too difficult to manage; Vanguard is the final option when all other options fail.
From what’s shown in SKIDS, it looks like the teachers genuinely cared, and truly bought in to the model. The students that were involved had been through some pretty awful stuff, and they were still able to thrive. They actually felt respected and listened to, which helped them feel comfortable opening up. According to staff, both students and parents were really receptive to the idea of a disrupted nervous system that can be brought back into balance with appropriate interventions.
I’m familiar with trauma-informed care in the context of psychiatry, but this is the first time I’ve come across trauma-informed education. It makes a lot of sense, though. Basically, trauma-informed means recognizing that many people have a history of trauma, which affects their interaction with others and their environment. The focus is on promoting safety as a foundation for doing other work.
I wonder how many schools incorporate some degree of awareness around trauma. I’m guessing not a whole lot.
My dad is a retired special education teacher. I grew up in a small town, so there was only one high school, which meant that I went to the school where he taught. And while he had no problems with the disabled kids that he worked with, I remember him talking fairly regularly about the “losers” – the exact same kinds of kids that end up at Vanguard.
Now, I know my dad is judgmental; he’s a fat-shamer, too. But I don’t think he’s alone in that in the teaching world, especially in the older age bracket. Given how common judgementality is in general, the teaching profession can’t be all that different.
So, coming back to being trauma-informed. Thinking in the back of their mind that a kid is a “loser” is probably going to point a teacher in the exact opposite direction from trauma-informed.
And that matters, because somewhere along that path from childhood to adulthood, a segment of people who’ve been abused as kids go on to become antisocial, abusive adults. Chances are pretty good that the trauma is happening at home, so the home environment can’t be relied upon to derail the antisocial track.
That leaves schools—schools that are likely under-resourced. Schools with teachers like my dad who write off “bad kids” as a lost cause. But maybe if more schools were trauma-informed, and more school districts had well-resourced trauma-informed options, more traumatized kids would have a chance to turn their lives in a more constructive direction.
SKIDS is only 38 minutes, and it’s well worth a watch. It’s on Youtube.