Educators take action to respond to childhood trauma and become Minnesota’s first trauma-sensitive school district

Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading expert on childhood trauma, will work with 40 Intermediate District 287 educators to expand efforts to respond to Hennepin County’s highest needs students.

Intermediate District 287 serves the top one percent of highest needs students in the west metro, the vast majority who have experienced childhood trauma. The shift in student needs led Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski to launch a new direction, a focus on trauma-sensitive practices.

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., a leading national expert on childhood trauma known for his work with Oprah Winfrey, and his team will spend two days with 40 Intermediate District 287 educators to strengthen their skills in responding to childhood trauma. Educators will focus on key mindsets and practices to help students heal and learn more effectively, how a brain exposed to trauma functions, and the impact of race-related trauma, such as being exposed to racial discrimination or witnessing police brutality.

In Minnesota, almost twice as many Black children (58 percent) experience trauma compared to their White peers (31 percent). Seventy percent of District 287 students are children of color.

“We know that children of color are disproportionately impacted by trauma, including race-related trauma,” said Superintendent Sandy Lewandowski. “We have an important opportunity to help educators better understand the intersection of race and trauma and gain skills to help students heal. At times, our response to student behavior can unintentionally re-traumatize students. Our investment in trauma-sensitive practices will prepare school staff to become leaders in this work.” The superintendent last February brought together legislators, educational leaders, and key community stakeholders for a regional discussion about race, trauma, and the racial disproportionality in special education.

The district has already made major investments in recent years to become more trauma-responsive: Therapeutic teaching classrooms where educators and clinical therapists work hand-in-hand in the classroom were opened during the 2018-2019 school year; professional development for staff in trauma, crisis, and de-escalation occurs annually; the launch of a district mobile response team of licensed mental health professionals responds to over 300 significant school crisis annually; and a new safety model replaced school resources officers with school safety coaches who have extensive training in relationship-building, special education, trauma, and de-escalation. The district has also focused on employee wellbeing to support staff who experience physical injuries, secondary trauma, or compassion fatigue related to their work.

Dr. Perry and colleagues from The Neurosequential Network will work with school staff on June 19 and 20. Dr. Perry will hold an exclusive keynote address for regional policymakers and educational leaders the morning of June 19. The work with the organization will support the district’s efforts to become Minnesota’s first trauma-sensitive school district. Intermediate District 287 is also the first intermediate consortium of high needs students with which the organization has worked.