Posted: February 26th, 2023

Illustrate Trauma-Informed Teaching Practices and Interventions

Considering the knowledge learned from previous articles regarding trauma think of at least two trauma informed teaching practices and interventions that could be presented to educators or school principals. Reflect about at least one support person within the school who colud help assist educators with the practices or interventions. Examples include school social worker, school counselor, or a mental health professional to assist with the implementation of the trauma-informed teaching practices and interventions. See the attached articles below.

Trauma-informed practices in a laboratory
middle school

Heidi B. Von Dohlen, Holly H. Pinter, Kim K. Winter, Sandy Ward, & Chip Cody

  • Abstract
  • : This article explores how a laboratory middle school
    (LMS) serving students from low-performing elementary
    schools and students with academic or social-emotional chal-
    lenges is developing as a trauma-responsive school. The
    authors explore the literature, school/community context, stu-
    dent cases, and the ways in which classroom and school-wide
    practices are trauma-informed. Trauma-informed practices
    focus on individual students as well as whole classroom and
    school-wide initiatives, potentially benefiting all, not only those
    students experiencing trauma. At LMS, a community of care
    system, evaluation committee, tribe and village meetings, the
    democratic classroom approach, project-based learning, as well
    as focused enrichment and remediation are all initiatives that
    have demonstrated some success. Documentation of such
    successes merits exploration in other middle schools. The LMS
    team seeks to understand and implement highest leverage
    practice as students are challenged academically, their socio-
    emotional needs are supported, and resiliency is built not only
    in the classroom but also in the lives of the young adolescents

    Keywords: democratic classrooms, middle schools, social-emo-
    tional, trauma-informed practices, trauma-responsive

    This We Believe characteristics:

    ● Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to
    teach them.

    ● The school environment is inviting, safe, inclusive, and
    supportive of all.

    “One out of every 4 children attending school has been
    exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or
    behavior” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network,
    2008, p. 4).

    Understanding and responding to the developmental
    needs of young adolescents has long been the bedrock of
    the middle school concept. As stated in This We Believe
    (National Middle School Association [NSMA], 2010), “The
    curriculum, pedagogy, and programs of middle grades
    schools must be based upon the developmental readiness,
    needs, and interests of young adolescents” (p. 5). The Every
    Student Succeeds Act (2015) opened the door for state and
    local policy makers to address safety and mental health
    issues, which includes trauma, on a more substantial level.
    This includes providing tools, funding, and organizational
    infrastructure to assist students, and providing learning
    supports for them to succeed.

    Schools struggle to adequately support students experi-
    encing trauma, adversely impacting students’ learning and
    social success. School officials and policy makers must first
    seek to understand the impact of trauma, and then provide
    support to mitigate the negative impacts trauma has on our
    students (McInerney & McKlindon, 2014). The National
    Association for School Psychologists (NASP, 2015) reported
    children spend much of their day in school where caring
    adults are available to help them. Therefore, schools have
    important roles to play in providing a stable safe space for
    children and connecting them to caring adults. For schools to
    be trauma-responsive, however, educators must observe and
    respond to classroom behaviors through a different lens
    (Terassi & de Galarce, 2017).

    Cole, Eisner, Gregory, and Ristuccia (2013) asserted if
    educators had at least a foundational knowledge of the
    research on trauma, they would not only be able to opti-
    mally support students in trauma, but also those impacted
    by their peers’ trauma. Trauma-responsive educators are
    present and focused with their students, aware of students’

    6 Middle School Journal September 2019

    body language and non-verbal cues, calm in their interac-
    tions with students, remain positive even when students
    are off-task, provide structured routines, and de-escalate
    students’ emotions while remaining in control of their
    own emotions (Walkley & Cox, 2013).

    This article explores how a laboratory middle school
    (LMS) serving students from low-performing elementary
    schools and students with academic or social-emotional
    challenges is developing as a trauma-responsive school. The
    authors explore the literature, school/community context,
    three students’ cases, and the ways in which classroom and
    school-wide practices are trauma-informed.

  • Review of literature
  • In 1998, a study at Kaiser Permanente in California on adverse
    childhood experiences (ACEs) and childhood trauma and
    their relationship to health risk behavior, disease, and early
    death in adulthood (Felitti et al., 1998) shocked theworld and
    precipitated more research into the field of the long-term
    impacts of trauma on children. The Substance Abuse and
    Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defined
    trauma as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances
    that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotion-
    ally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse
    effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical,
    social, emotional, or spiritual well-being” (U.S. Department of
    Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental
    Health Services Administration, 2018, p. 7). According to The
    National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN, 2008),
    children and adolescents experience trauma when they have
    persistent reactions to the trauma affecting their daily lives
    even after the event or situation has ended.

    Three main types of trauma include acute, chronic,
    and complex. The NCTSN’s Complex Trauma Task Force,
    a collective of professionals representing a dozen univer-
    sities, hospitals, trauma centers, and health programs
    across the United States first explored he term complex
    trauma in 2003. This term emerged from the recognition
    that many people experience multiple adversities over the
    course of their lifetime (National Child Traumatic Stress
    Network Schools Committee, 2008). Some examples of
    trauma cited by NASP (2015) include violence, abuse,
    neglect, terrorism, and traumatic loss.

    In a longitudinal study conducted on rural adoles-
    cents, researchers found two out of every three children
    had experienced a traumatic event by their 16th birthday
    (Copeland, Keeler, Angold, & Costello, 2007), and “one in

    five adolescents has had a serious mental health disorder,
    such as depression and/or anxiety disorders, at some
    point in their life” (U.S. Department of Health & Human
    Services Office of Adolescent Health, 2017a). Students
    exposed to trauma experience higher levels of depression,
    anxiety, and other impairments (Copeland et al., 2007).

    Despite clear scientific evidence, our education system
    has largely ignored issues related to trauma and learning
    (McInerney & McKlindon, 2014); however, neurobiologi-
    cal research proves exposure to childhood trauma causes
    brain and hormonal changes and impedes learning and
    social-emotional development in children and adolescents
    (Judicial Council of California, 2014; Urban Education
    Institute, 2017). Trauma can negatively impact grades,
    absences, and reading ability, while increasing discipline
    issues leading to suspensions and expulsions. Trauma
    impairs learning by negatively impacting attention, mem-
    ory, cognition, focus, and organization. Additionally,
    trauma can cause physical and emotional stress in students
    such as headaches or stomach aches, poor control of
    emotions, and unpredictable behaviors (National Child
    Traumatic Stress Network Schools Committee, 2008).

    Schools often identify trauma when a student
    demonstrates aggressive behavior. Schools are primarily
    reactive to students experiencing trauma after a significant
    behavioral incident occurs; however, educators can help
    prevent aggressive behavior by “ … being aware of stu-
    dents’ emotional states and responding with proactive de-
    escalation classroom management practices. Actions as
    simple as greeting students at the door and asking them to
    complete a daily mood chart can help teachers under-
    stand and react better to students’ behavior” (Urban
    Education Institute, 2017, p. 21). Trauma-responsive edu-
    cational practices acknowledge schools as safe spaces with
    trusting relationships between students and educators,
    understand trauma and how trauma impacts children’s
    brain development and behavior, utilize proactive beha-
    vioral supports, de-escalate challenging student behaviors,
    and keep students in the classroom (Walkley & Cox,
    2013), and support educators to utilize self-care to miti-
    gate the impact of trauma-related stress on themselves
    (Jennings, 2019).

    It is important to note that not all experiences of
    trauma lead to a traumatic response or trauma-related
    disorder or diagnosis. But when signs and symptoms of
    traumatic stress endure over time (one month or longer),
    disrupt a child’s or adult’s daily life, impact their social
    and emotional health, and meet specific diagnostic 7

    criteria, the impacts of trauma can be far reaching
    (National Child Traumatic Stress Network Schools
    Committee, 2008). For youth involved with the juvenile
    justice system, the prevalence of youth exposed to com-
    plex trauma is believed to be higher than their same-aged
    peers (Judicial Council of California, 2014; Wolpaw &
    Ford, 2004). One study found over 90% of juvenile detai-
    nees reported having experienced at least one traumatic
    event (Arroya, 2001). Children experiencing poverty are
    especially susceptible to experiencing multiple adverse
    experiences (McInerney & McKlindon, 2014).

    The NCTSN (2008) identified observable behaviors
    for middle school students experiencing trauma. Some of
    these behaviors included anxiety, fear, and worry; irrit-
    ability; angry outbursts; withdrawal; increased absentee-
    ism; changes in academic performance; avoidance
    behaviors; over- or under-reacting to physical contact,
    sudden movement, and noises such as bells or doors
    slamming. Additionally, the NCTSN cautions educators to
    also be aware of students who may not demonstrate overt
    symptoms of trauma, and therefore, do not receive the
    support they need. With support, students can recover
    from trauma within a few weeks or months, while others
    require support to heal over a longer period of time.

    Childhood trauma can have a negative impact on
    many parts of students’ lives including academic pro-
    blems, behavioral issues, emotional problems, and tru-
    ancy. These negative impacts, combined with mental
    health or substance abuse make students much more
    likely to become court-involved (Judicial Council of
    California, 2014). Trauma can also significantly alter our
    brain’s function and the high levels of stress triggered by
    trauma can impede development (Judicial Council of
    California, 2014; Walkley & Cox, 2013)). Terrasi and de
    Galarce (2017) found a strong likelihood that added stress
    compromises a child’s executive functioning abilities.
    Without the full development of executive functions, stu-
    dents will struggle with concentration, language acquisi-
    tion and processing, decision making, and memory.
    Children in trauma often experience deficiencies in
    abstract reasoning, impulsiveness, and developmental
    coordination disorder (Damian, Knieling, & Ioan, 2011).

    Just as trauma may impair cognitive functioning, it
    may also lead to difficulties with social and behavioral
    functioning which manifest as often-misunderstood beha-
    vioral problems in the classroom. Students may display
    impulsive, aggressive, or defiant behaviors. Such beha-
    vioral difficulties may result in harsh disciplinary practices,

    involvement of the justice system, or school dropout-par-
    ticularly as schools struggle to accurately assess and iden-
    tify trauma and the associated symptoms (Smithgall,
    Cusick, & Griffin, 2013). Schools are two times more likely
    to retain students experiencing trauma. They also score
    lower on standardized tests and are more likely to be
    placed in special education programs (Cole et al., 2013).

    Although trauma can have negative effects on stu-
    dents’ development and functioning, adolescents can be
    resilient with support from caring educators in safe school
    settings (Judicial Council of California, 2014). Although
    no single program exists to promote resiliency in youth,
    schools, along with other family and community efforts,
    can play a role by providing effective interventions and
    approaches which foster resilience in trauma-exposed
    youth (Moore, 2013). Schools can be trauma-sensitive by
    maintaining routines and giving students choices. Clear
    behavioral expectations and recognition of behavioral
    issues can help to mitigate disruptions to learning. Schools
    and educators can help by providing a safe place for
    students and developing awareness of environmental cues
    which may trigger a traumatized student. Shortened
    assignments, allowing additional time to complete assign-
    ments, and providing support for organization are other
    ways educators can mitigate the effects of trauma for
    students (National Child Traumatic Stress Network
    Schools Committee, 2008).

    Finally, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
    Schools Committee (2008) cautions educators who work
    with traumatized students to be aware of compassion fati-
    gue since working directly with children experiencing
    trauma can cause secondary traumatic stress to profes-
    sionals. Educators should resist working in professional
    isolation by seeking support from peers while maintaining
    confidentiality of the students. And one of the most
    important steps an educator can take is to seek help with
    his or her own personal traumas, and practice self-care.

    School background & connection to whole
    school, whole community, whole child

    Our state, regional university (SRU) designed and cur-
    rently operates a laboratory middle school (LMS) for 6th,
    7th, and 8th grades as a school within a school in a local
    high school building. The SRU designed LMS in partner-
    ship with the local school system to explore innovative
    teaching approaches and applied learning opportunities
    that will help every student discover his or her full

    8 Middle School Journal September 2019

    academic potential. At the beginning of the second year of
    service, LMS framed the scope and context of needs, data,
    and direction in the fact that no historical trends had yet
    been established. Congruent with research on trauma-
    sensitive schools by Craig (2016), LMS is working toward
    development as a trauma-responsive school focusing on
    safety, empowerment through choice, and collaborative
    partnerships between students, faculty, and staff.

    School/student demographics

    State legislation guiding laboratory schools dictates that
    students must meet certain qualifications to be enrolled,
    including residency in the county in which the school is
    located, previous enrollment in a low-performing school,
    or student identification as not meeting growth through
    various criteria (such as test scores, grades, or lack of
    achievement gain). Students may also meet an additional
    low performance category which includes a myriad of
    criteria: met end-of-grade proficiency, but earned poor
    grades; labeled twice exceptional as eligible for special
    education services; exhibited extreme behavioral issues;
    demonstrated lack of growth progress over time and/or
    did not meet growth targets; experienced social-emo-
    tional issues or contextual factors such as trauma, familial
    issues, etc.

    LMS is located in a rural county with a population
    over 43,000; the state, regional university is its biggest
    employer. The population is majority white at 83%, while
    Native American is the largest minority group with almost
    10%. The projected median household income is
    approximately $42,000. Eighty-eight percent of adults in
    the county have a high school diploma or greater, and
    30% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    The current enrollment of LMS is 56 students: 22
    females and 34 males. Approximately 75% of LMS stu-
    dents were enrolled previously in county public schools
    and 25% were either home schooled or enrolled in
    another school district. Approximately 76.8% of students
    identify as White, non-Hispanic; 14.3% identify as multi-
    racial; 5.4% Native American; 3.5% Hispanic; and none
    who identify as African American or Asian American. In
    addition, 21.4% of the LMS population is labeled as
    Exceptional Children (i.e., special education), 4% have
    504 plans, 9% are gifted (several of these students are
    twice-exceptional, meaning they receive both EC and
    gifted services), and 48% receive free or reduced lunch.

    Climate/school culture

    The culture of the school reflects the collaboration with
    SRU by accessing resources and personnel. LMS students
    have access to daily health and physical education, regular
    music and arts activities, leadership experiences, and
    mentorship from experts in a variety of academic fields.
    Some SRU academic programs that support activities
    reach well beyond teacher education, including parks and
    recreation, international programs, music, theater and
    studio arts, engineering, school counseling, as well as
    business and leadership. These enrichment activities and
    clubs encourage students to learn more about themselves
    and others, as well as contribute to the school community.
    Collaboration with the local high school and SRU exposes
    the students to high school-aged students as well university
    interns and volunteers. SRU has strong partnerships with
    the local community as well as the Eastern Band of
    Cherokee Indians (EBCI) since the campus is located on
    Cherokee land.

    Significant barriers

    One significant barrier to wellness for adolescents is lack
    of mental health services. Deficiency in services is largely
    due to the stigma and cultural norms associated with
    psychotherapy or counseling. Furthermore, rural areas in
    the United States, much like the setting of LMS, have
    fewer adolescent psychiatrists (U.S. Department of Health
    & Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, 2017b)
    and adolescents living in these areas are less likely to
    receive mental health services than adolescents living in
    urban areas (Lipari, Hedden, Blau, & Rubenstein, 2016).

    As a university laboratory school working in coopera-
    tion with the local county school system, LMS is located
    within the local high school campus. SRU’s partner school
    system provides the physical space, bus transportation,
    food services, technology support for student devices, and
    classroom instructional technology as part of
    a memorandum of agreement and lease between the uni-
    versity and school system. With space at a premium, it is
    often difficult to reserve locations for smaller groups,
    which is a need for diagnostic assessments, school coun-
    seling sessions, speech language or physical therapy, tar-
    geted academic interventions, and enrichment activities.
    These barriers, at times, hinder professional services
    available to students. Because of the space needs, SRU and
    the local school system have expanded the partnership to
    include a large, additional space for reservation within the 9

    high school. This redesigned space now includes
    a classroom of 15 to 25 students, a conference area, small
    group tables and chairs, and more. Our hope is that this
    newly available space will at least partially address space as
    a barrier.

    Student cases

    The authors present three students below who exhibit
    behaviors associated with trauma. The cases articulate the
    student experiences and illustrate varied strategies that
    educators may employ when working with students
    experiencing trauma. These young adolescent students
    come from different backgrounds and their behaviors
    manifest in unique ways within the day-to-day life of
    school. One year into the existence of LMS, various ele-
    ments of success have emerged for each of these students.
    LMS staff and SRU faculty stakeholders have explored new
    systems of support. Even though challenges still exist,
    classroom, school-wide and specific, individually-focused
    trauma-informed practices help students navigate their
    middle school experiences and increase resiliency within
    the school day.

    Damien. Damien is a highly mobile student who
    changes schools about every two years usually associated
    with his ever-changing home life structure. At the end of
    any given school day Damien and his teachers are often
    uncertain as to which caregivers’ home he will return.
    There are daily questions about who, if anyone, will be
    there to greet Damien. When at his father’s house,
    Damien reports that he is left alone to either work at his
    father’s business or to care for his two young siblings.
    While Damien reports having a good relationship with his
    mother, she lives farther away and is not a consistent
    presence in his life. Their relationship seems to consist of
    friendship rather than a parent/child dynamic. Damien’s
    grandmother is a consistent and supportive adult in his
    life. Teachers readily note when Damien stays with her, he
    shows up to school in clean clothes with a healthy lunch,
    which is not common with mom or dad.

    At his previous schools, Damien was in the office or
    in-school-suspension more often than in the classroom.
    Although he has well above average academic abilities,
    Damien struggles in the context of a traditional classroom.
    He meticulously analyzes most elements of the classroom,
    from the activities to the way teachers interact with him,
    and he constantly questions why systems exist and why
    systems which to him, hold no logic or value constrain

    him. Damien often gets frustrated when he feels as if
    teachers are not considering his ideas or questions and he
    often characterizes his teachers’ verbal interactions with
    and toward him as dismissive. Damien’s frequent absences
    seem to make him feel endlessly lost in class, as if despite
    his best efforts, he is consistently behind. He has limited
    coping mechanisms for frustrations, and continuing vio-
    lent, aggressive, verbal outbursts typically result in
    Damien’s removal from the classroom. LMS teachers
    continue to work to find solutions to deescalate Damien’s
    explosive, verbal reactions to frustration.

    Damien has historically struggled in his relationship
    with his teachers. There are moments where LMS faculty
    perceive his words as threatening and hurtful.
    Nevertheless, he is a 13-year-old boy with cognitive abilities
    well-beyond his years despite an unstable family support
    network and an inability to communicate in a calm man-
    ner. Teachers have worked closely with mental health
    professionals, the school interventionist, his caregivers,
    and each other to consistently support Damien’s needs.
    Ongoing interventions range from attempts to meet basic
    needs, such as making sure the snack pantry is stocked
    when Damien arrives at school hungry to those strategies
    targeted at his academic needs, such as implementation of
    a 504 Plan in his second year at LMS. Teachers look for
    ways to communicate with Damien during instruction in
    order to maximize positive interactions. They talk as
    a team to pinpoint triggers that elicit heightened struggles
    during instruction, and experiment with communication
    strategies that might diffuse these tense situations
    (including avoidance of certain words or phrases). For
    example, if Damien gets frustrated during discussion, tea-
    chers have found general coping mechanisms such as
    “take a deep breath,” or “I hear what you are saying,”
    exacerbate Damien’s frustrations rather than diffuse

    Julie. Julie is an eighth-grade student who has
    experienced multiple sources of trauma that contribute to
    her struggles in school. Julie’s grandmother primarily
    supports her as her mother does not have the financial
    means to support Julie in addition to her other children.
    Physical challenges throughout Julie’s life have led to
    multiple surgeries to help her walk. While her physical
    condition limits her at times, she can participate in most
    activities provided by LMS. In her prior schools, Julie was
    reported to exhibit attention-seeking behaviors by
    engaging peers negatively, stealing items from peers and
    teachers, and disengaging from academics. Teachers

    10 Middle School Journal September 2019

    perceive Julie as guarded and they attribute this
    characteristic to Julie’s personal experiences outside of
    school. She does not trust others easily and will put on
    a “tough girl” facade at times. This is sometimes
    problematic in her interactions with other students who
    see her actions as mean and hurtful. She has suffered
    bullying for many years and her coping mechanism is to
    bully others. Beyond the physical and social challenges she
    endures, Julie also requires an Individualized Education
    Program to provide academic support in reading, writing,
    and mathematics instruction, as well as physical therapy
    on a bi-monthly basis.

    In Julie’s case, teachers at LMS have found the most
    beneficial way to support her is through relationship-
    building. While this is often true with adolescents, the
    behaviors attributed to the trauma in Julie’s life make
    personal relationships key to making strides toward aca-
    demic and social goals. Teachers have found small-group
    instruction whenever possible best meets this need.
    Additionally, the school has worked hard to create
    opportunities for Julie to be involved in developmentally
    appropriate social activities. Julie has developed a strong
    relationship with the physical education teacher. Because
    of this relationship, Julie has joined the school’s Girls on
    the Run (n.d.) club that integrates running with building
    confidence and empowering adolescent girls. Julie
    recently participated in a 5K race and is also active in the
    theater elective.

    Nate. Nate also has a set of unique attributes
    impacting his school experiences. He comes from a large
    family structure including both parents, three siblings,
    grandparents, and several other women he refers to as
    “step-moms.” Nate’s family struggles financially and his
    mother is a full-time student at a local community college.
    Despite challenges, Nate’s family really desires success for
    the children and all family members try to support each
    other whenever possible. One of Nate’s largest barriers to
    success in prior school years has been a lack of impulse
    control. He is animated and energetic, and these qualities
    have contributed to disciplinary issues. One incident even
    involved Nate running away from school. In the first weeks
    working with Nate, teachers found him to be fiercely
    protective and loyal to his friends, excited about learning,
    but unorganized. With the school’s commitment to social
    and emotional development, teachers made intentional
    efforts to utilize positive framing and language techniques
    to recognize Nate’s strengths. In terms of academics, the
    teachers recognized the need to push and challenge Nate

    because keeping him engaged in learning would diffuse
    some of the negative behaviors exhibited in school. In year
    two, the teachers highlight Nate as one of the biggest
    success stories: he has emerged as a leader among his
    peers, he is respectful in the classroom, and he is
    challenged academically as one of a select few students
    who participate in Math 1, a high school level course. Nate
    has indicated he notices the teachers at LMS are more
    accepting of a variety of students than what he has
    observed at former schools. Additionally, he appears to
    have benefitted from a wider range of academic choices
    and has indicated he feels more supported in this new

    Implementation of
    trauma-informed practices
    Schools utilizing a whole-school approach of trauma-respon-
    sive practices, including democratic processes, validate the
    voices of allmembers of the school community and promote
    healthy relationships and resilience in children (Blitz, Yull, &
    Clauhs, 2016). SAMHSA identified trauma-informed organi-
    zations as those that realize the impact of trauma, recognize
    the signs of trauma, respond by integrating knowledge about
    trauma into policies, procedures, and practices, and seek to
    actively resist re-traumatization (2018). SAMHSA also identi-
    fied six key principles of a trauma-informed approach: “ …
    safety, trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; colla-
    boration and mutuality; empowerment, voice, and choice;
    and cultural, historical, and gender issues” (2018, p. 10).
    These six principles are evident in the structures LMS has
    established to create a trauma-informed school. Some of the
    structures LMS utilizes to engage and support students aca-
    demically and social-emotionally are: A Community of Care
    Committee, an evaluation committee, daily homeroom
    meetings, monthly whole school meetings, student govern-
    ment, democratic classrooms, project-based learning, and
    individual intervention and enrichment activities. We
    describe these structures below.

    The community of care

    LMS adopted the Association for Supervision and
    Curriculum Development (ASCD, 2014) Whole School,
    Whole Community, Whole Child model as a framework for
    creating collaborative school/community relationships
    and improving the learning and health of all students.
    From this framework the development of a Community 11

    of Care is evolving in which laboratory school personnel,
    college of education faculty, and community-based pro-
    fessionals coordinate supports to address students’ aca-
    demic, physical, and social-emotional needs. The goal of
    the Community of Care is to create a greater alignment
    between academic performance, health, and social-emo-
    tional development to provide a framework for creating
    school-community relationships focused on integrated
    services. SRU graduate counseling students, overseen by
    SRU Counseling Faculty, facilitate whole groups and
    provide individual counseling to students. Whole group
    sessions focus on topics such as social-emotional growth,
    conflict resolution, decision-making, goal setting, and
    peer interactions. In particular, the Community of Care
    seeks to emphasize the following core values: (1) utilizing
    experiential learning to guide students toward deep
    understanding; (2) focusing on health and well-being,
    specifically social and emotional development; (3)
    building a democratic community and embracing social
    justice; (4) developing cultural responsiveness within and
    outside of the learning community; (5) embracing the
    ideals of student-centered assessment; and (6) building
    family and community alliances.

    The evaluation committee

    An SRU faculty member leads an evaluation committee
    to inform academic and social-emotional initiatives at
    LMS. One instrument used by LMS is the REACH
    (Relationships, Effort, Aspirations, Cognition, Heart)
    survey (Search Institute, 2018) to collect data on stu-
    dents’ motivation to learn. REACH identifies social and
    emotional learning factors. The evaluation team, com-
    prised of LMS and SRU faculty, review the data col-
    lected. The team uses this data to better understand
    motivational and inhibiting factors of student success,
    and thus provide direction for the implementation of
    practices in the school. These practices have a direct
    impact on the day-to-day interactions between all adults
    and students at LMS and are especially beneficial for the
    academic and social-emotional growth of students
    experiencing trauma like Damien, Julie, and Nate.

    Democratic classrooms

    LMS implemented Democratic Classrooms and Positive
    Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) this year.

    Building upon the work of Guldbrandsen (1998), LMS
    defines a democratic classroom as a place where students
    are regularly involved in decision-making processes regard-
    ing the classroom learning environment. Those decisions
    can include creating classroom rules and expectations,
    determining student and teacher responsibilities, and set-
    ting the goals and objectives of the class. A significant focus
    of PBIS has been helping students to build autonomy and
    empowering students through multiple opportunities such
    as student government and student jobs.

    To begin the school year, students created lists of jobs
    for the classroom and they applied for jobs best suited to
    their individual strengths and interests. This structure
    empowers students to run the classroom and practice
    accountability as well as emphasizes student commitment to
    success. In the first month of school, each grade level spent
    time building their PBIS matrices as a group with input
    from students and teachers. Students also contributed their
    own ideas for incentives and rewards using a token econ-
    omy. This system allows students like Damien and Nate to
    have a vested interest and autonomy in the school struc-
    ture, helping them to feel validated and supported.

    A tangent of democratic classrooms—giving students
    and caregivers voice in their education—is the imple-
    mentation of student led conferences. These conferences
    provide students with an opportunity to share and
    demonstrate responsibility for their progress as well as
    engage students and caregivers in conversations about
    school and learning. If caregivers are unable to attend, an
    LMS or SRU faculty member attends in their place.

    Tribe (homeroom) morning meetings. Every morning,
    teachers facilitate a morning meeting with the whole class to
    review expectations and set goals for the day. Key tenants for
    the morning meetings are communication, cooperation,
    collaboration, and community. On Fridays, homerooms have
    extended tribe meetings to review suggestion box items and
    discuss emerging issues or problems from the week. Topics of
    discussion include peer conflict, drama, missed deadlines,
    problem behaviors, and organization. Tribemeetings are part
    of a democratic classroom process in which teachers and
    students talk about issues and solutions as a group. Student
    Government representatives also record notes and report
    back to their respective grade levels. This year, SRU student
    teaching interns also participated in tribe meetings to make
    sure practicing teachers were informed of student issues and
    all adults were working collaboratively to provide consistency

    12 Middle School Journal September 2019

    in approach, particularly when SRU aspiring teachers were
    working with LMS students.

    Village (whole school) meetings. The principal,
    teachers, students, and interns meet as a whole school once
    a month for a “village meeting.” Topics discussed affect the
    whole school including whole-school opportunities and
    announcements. This is a time to make sure everyone shares
    a common understanding of the direction and goals of the
    school. Examples of topics addressed at village meetings are
    mission statements, culture surveys, data tracking, social skills
    training, troubleshooting strategies, and classroom and whole
    school incentives. Teachers document effective
    communication and conflict resolution strategies through
    t-charts constructed with students. Student government
    representatives deliver a full report to the student body.
    Additionally, as the need arises during the month, the school
    holds village meetings where the entire school gathers for

    Project-based learning

    The allure of Project-based learning (PBL) is in its
    authenticity: students are collecting data and skills from
    several sources and assimilating them to answer
    a driving question in a unique way. Projects begin with
    a driving question developed by the teacher to address
    the educational and skills standards (Hmelo-Silver,
    2013). The question must be relevant and timely for the
    students because it provides the framework and motiva-
    tion for learning. The teachers introduce the PBL with
    an entrance event which consists of a “hook” or exam-
    ple, and outlines the driving question and expectations
    for the project. The expectations include rubrics and
    timelines for students to structure their work. The stu-
    dents then work collaboratively to address the driving
    problem, establish goals, assign individual roles, and
    conduct research. In this context, the students are
    leading their own learning. The teacher provides sup-
    port through varied formative assessments and activities
    with scaffolded content and skills knowledge. At the end
    of the PBL, students present their artifacts to an audi-
    ence. The students reflect on their process and talk
    about what they created, how they learned, and any next
    steps they intend to take. PBL allows all students to
    engage in learning that is relevant to them and it par-
    ticularly meets the needs of students experiencing
    trauma like Damien and Nate, who respond to student

    Intervention and enrichment

    LMS’s intervention and enrichment committee is com-
    prised of LMS and SRU faculty. The committee meets
    weekly and identifies students in need of specific services.
    SRU teacher education majors come once a week and
    provide targeted intervention support for students in read-
    ing. An SRU Special Education faculty member and
    a Professor of Psychology also support this effort to monitor
    academic progress and LMS student attitudes towards the
    support and interactions with the undergraduate students.
    For students like Julie, remediation and enrichment time is
    a key feature to engage her interests and strengths, which
    supports her overall feelings about school. LMS and SRU
    faculty provide enrichment activities for academically gifted
    and excelling students once a week as well.

  • Areas for future research
  • Middle schools can continue to add to the research base for
    trauma-responsive practices by documenting interventions,
    approaches, and initiatives used to support and educate
    trauma-exposed youth. The community of care system, tribe
    and village meetings, democratic classrooms, project-based
    learning, and focused enrichment are initiatives with indica-
    tors of initial success at LMS. These trauma-informed prac-
    tices merit exploration in other middle schools. Trauma-
    informed practices are focused to meet individual student’s
    needs, and are also classroom and school-wide initiatives that
    meet the socioemotional needs of all students. More research
    is needed to find the highest leverage practices when it comes
    to trauma-informed practices.

    Trauma-informed practices are focused to meet
    individual student’s needs, and are also classroom
    and school-wide initiatives that meet the socioe-
    motional needs of all students.

  • Conclusion
  • Indicators of trauma-responsive schools have significant over-
    lap with the essential attributes outlined in This We Believe
    (NSMA, 2010), particularly in terms of climate and culture of
    school as well as curricular choices. Some necessary features
    of trauma-responsive schools have long been part of the mis-
    sion of AMLE.Many informed educators would argue trauma-
    responsive practices are simply “good teaching.” Certainly, 13

    trauma-informed pedagogy is good for all students. At any
    time in a child’s life, particularly in middle school, children
    experience challenges that trauma-responsive practices can
    likely help to ameliorate the negative impacts of in the class-
    room. However, for our schools to continue being develop-
    mentally responsive, challenging, empowering, and
    equitable, educators need to engage in practices through
    a trauma-informed lens.

    for our schools to continue being developmentally
    responsive, challenging, empowering, and equita-
    ble, educators need to engage in practices through
    a trauma-informed lens.

    It is through intentional training and utilization of trauma-
    informed practices that educators can continue to refine
    practices as we strive to challenge our students academically
    and support students’ social-emotional needs while simulta-
    neously building resiliency in the classroom and in students’

  • References
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    Blitz, L. V., Yull, D., & Clauhs, M. (2016). Bringing sanctuary to
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    Cole, S. F., Eisner, A., Gregory, M., & Ristuccia, J. (2013). Helping
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    Damian, S. I., Knieling, A., & Ioan, B. G. (2011). Post-traumatic stress
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    Terrasi, S., & de Galarce, P. C. (2017). Trauma and learning in
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    6th-8th Grade Program

    6th-8th Grade Program

    Retrieved from

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    ing. The University of Chicago. Retrieved from https://uei.uchi

    Walkley, M., & Cox, T. L. (2013). Building trauma-informed schools
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    Heidi B. Von Dohlen, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in Educational Leadership in the Department of Human Services, College of Education and
    Allied Professions at Western Carolina University. Email:

    Holly H. Pinter, Ph.D., is an associate professor in Middle Grades Education in the School of Teaching and Learning at Western Carolina University.

    Kim K. Winter, Ph.D., is a professor in Middle Grades Education and Dean of The College of Education and Allied Professions at Western Carolina
    University. Email:

    Sandy Ward is the principal at W.R. Odell Elementary School in Cabarrus County, NC and a doctoral student in Educational Leadership at Western
    Carolina University. Email:

    Chip Cody is the principal at The Catamount School in Sylva, NC. Email: 15

    Copyright of Middle School Journal is the property of Routledge and its content may not be
    copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s
    express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
    individual use.


      Review of literature

      School background & connection to whole school, whole community, whole child

      School/student demographics

      Climate/school culture

      Significant barriers

      Student cases




    • Implementation of trauma-informed practices
    • The community of care

      The evaluation committee

      Democratic classrooms

      Tribe (homeroom) morning meetings

      Village (whole school) meetings

      Project-based learning

      Intervention and enrichment

      Areas for future research



    • Notes on contributors

    Issues in Educational Research, 26(1), 2016 82



    Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children
    in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    Teresa Mwoma
    Kenyatta University, Kenya
    Jace Pillay
    University of Johannesburg, South Africa

    Educational status is an important indicator of children’s wellbeing and future life
    opportunities. It can predict growth potential and economic viability of a state. While
    this is an ideal situation for all children, the case may be different for orphans and
    vulnerable children (OVC) due to the challenges they go through on a daily basis. This
    article aims to advance a debate on the findings of our study on the educational support
    provided for OVC through a critical engagement on the challenges experienced and the
    intervention measures to be taken in South African public primary schools context. The
    study involved one hundred and seven participants comprising sixty five OVC and forty
    two teachers. Questionnaires with structured and unstructured questions were utilised to
    collect descriptive and qualitative data. Findings suggest that, although the South African
    Government has put mechanisms in place to support OVC attain basic education,
    numerous challenges were found to be hindering some OVC from attaining quality
    education. Based on the findings, several intervention measures have been suggested.


    According to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals evaluation report 2013
    “Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of children leaving school early in the world with
    slightly more than two out of five children who started primary school in 2010 who will
    not make it into the last grade” (UN, 2013, p.16). While it is not clear from the report why
    many children would leave school early, poverty and the effects of HIV/AIDS have been
    known to play a big role in children leaving school early especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
    This is a worrying trend that calls for attention from all stakeholders in education to
    ensure that children at risk of dropping out of school are supported to complete their
    primary schooling.

    UNICEF (2009) maintains that addressing the educational rights and needs of OVC in
    Sub-Saharan Africa presents new opportunities and challenges that need attention. With
    the abolition of school fees in public primary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa, many
    children are enrolled in schools. However, the number of OVC has increased presenting
    new challenges in handling the large numbers and in addressing their educational rights
    and needs (UNICEF, 2009). Due to HIV/AIDS the traditional structure of households is
    changing in affected communities, leaving vulnerable children to adapt to non-traditional
    families and poverty (Ebersohn & Eloff, 2002). Ebersohn and Eloff note that when
    parents die, some orphans are left under the care of aged grandparents or under older
    siblings to care for them. This arrangement however may negatively influence the
    schooling status of affected children.

    Mwoma & Pillay 83

    Fleming (2015) pointed out that OVC in countries with many cases of HIV/AIDS
    experienced discrimination in accessing education and healthcare as orphanhood is
    associated with HIV/AIDS. Fleming further argued that maternal and double orphans are
    more discriminated against in accessing education than paternal orphans (Fleming, 2015;
    Case et al, 2004). Such orphans experience financial constraints which further
    disadvantage them as they cannot afford the cost of education related materials.
    Vulnerable children from child headed households are burdened with domestic and
    economic responsibilities, which in turn affect their participation in education in relation
    to attending and succeeding in school (Fleming, 2015).

    As the number of OVC grows, communities become less and less capable of addressing
    all their basic needs, including their ability to go to school (UNICEF, 2009). Lack of
    support in education by parents/guardians will have a direct influence on how OVC
    perform in education (Mwoma & Pillay, 2015). Interventions to overcome educational
    challenges are therefore critical as education gives a child hope for life and work and is a
    strong protector against HIV to which these children may be susceptible.

    South Africa being a signatory to the Dakar Framework for Action of 2000, and to a
    number of other international agreements, is committed to combating poverty and
    uplifting people through the provision of basic education (Republic of South Africa,
    2003). The government has made basic education compulsory for all children of school
    going age. It is to be of good quality and in which financial capacity is not a barrier to
    access to any child (Republic of South Africa, 2003).

    However, with the increase in HIV/AIDS epidemic across Southern Africa, countries are
    struggling to find effective means of addressing the negative impact of HIV at individual,
    family and community levels. The most complicated challenge is how to support the
    growing number of OVC made vulnerable by the direct and indirect effects of
    HIV/AIDS on their households (Open Society Foundation Education Support Program
    (OSFESP), and Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, (OSISA), 2012). In view of
    the challenges mentioned above, the current study sought to establish the educational
    support provided for OVC in public primary schools.

    Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC)

    A joint report by the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), United
    Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and United States Agency for International
    Development (USAID) (2004) maintain that millions of children can be described as
    vulnerable due to the effects of illness, poverty, conflict, disease and accidents. In the
    recent past however, the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been the significant
    cause of the increase in OVC.

    According to USAID & Catholic Relief Services (CRS) (2008), orphans are defined as
    children aged under 18 years who have lost either one or both parents while vulnerable
    children are defined as children whose safety, well-being or development is at significant

    84 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    risk. Economic and reduced parental care and protection may lead to OVC losing out on
    education about how to avoid HIV infection and may be more susceptible to abuse and
    exploitation than others (USAID &CRS, 2008). This article highlights findings on the
    educational support for OVC in public primary schools with a special focus on the
    challenges and intervention measures.

    Educational support

    Education as recognised in the convention on the rights of the child is a basic human
    right for all children (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 1989). A child who has access
    to quality primary schooling has a better chance in life. A child who knows how to read
    and write and do basic arithmetic has a solid foundation for continued learning
    throughout life (USAID & CRS, 2008). USAID and CRS maintain that school attendance
    helps children affected by trauma to regain a sense of normalcy and to recover from the
    psychosocial impact of their experiences and disruptive lives. They further observe that
    education benefits individuals and the whole nation as a major instrument for social and
    economic development (USAID & CRS, 2008).

    Hallfors et al (2011) pointed out that supporting adolescent girls to stay in school
    increases their chances of remaining in school, hence reducing chances of contracting
    HIV through early marriage. This intervention further reduces chances of girls dropping
    out of school. They maintain that staying in school increases girls’ bonding with school
    and teachers which in turn makes girls feel accepted and cared for by their teachers. This
    motivates girls to work harder to brighten their future life (Hallfors et al, 2011).

    Kelly (2002) maintained that formal school education is a powerful tool for transforming
    poverty in an environment where HIV/AIDS are rampart. He further argued that growth
    in education may positively influence growth out of poverty. All learners deserve quality
    education regardless of their status that will equip them with knowledge, skills and
    competencies to increase personal earnings and contribute to economic productivity
    (Baxen, Nsubuga & Botha, 2014; Robeyns, 2006).

    Schools not only benefit the child but can serve as important resource centres to meet the
    broader needs of the community (PEPFAR, 2006). Schools can provide children with a
    safe structured environment, the emotional support and supervision of adults and the
    opportunity to learn how to interact with other children and develop social networks.
    “Education is likely to lead to employability and can foster a child developing a sense of
    competence” (PEPFAR, 2006, p. 9). However, Wood and Goba (2011) in their study
    noted that teachers perceived themselves as not adequately prepared to deal with issues
    affecting OVC. This was evident when the teachers tried to support OVC but
    encountered difficulties in transferring knowledge acquired during training to action. The
    teachers acknowledged that what they learned in the training helped them improve their
    attitudes in working with OVC.

    Mwoma & Pillay 85

    USAID and CRS (2008) point out that basic education in primary and secondary levels
    contribute to the reduction of poverty. It increases labour productivity, improves health
    and enables people to participate fully in the economy and the development of their
    societies. They further argue that children and society who lack access to quality education
    are disadvantaged in terms of income, health and opportunity (USAID & CRS, 2008).
    Behavioural problems among OVC coupled with lack of well-established counseling
    structures (Mwoma & Pillay, 2015) may negatively influence children’s performance in
    education. Thus OVC need educational interventions as they are at risk of becoming
    infected with HIV due to economic hardships, reduced parental care and protection and
    increased susceptibility to abuse, and exploitation. These factors contribute to the barriers
    OVC face when pursuing education (USAID & CRS, 2008).

    Theoretical framework

    This article is anchored on the theoretical underpinnings of Bronfenbrenner’s bio-
    ecological systems theory which holds that development reflects the influence of several
    environmental systems. Bronfenbrenner conceptualised the child’s environment as having
    different interconnected layers nested together with agents that influence the child’s
    development with varying degrees of directness (McGuckin & Minton, 2014). Thus,
    parents, guardians, caregivers and the family have a direct influence on the child‘s
    socialisation within the microsystem. At this level, the child interacts with his/her family
    face to face. The school, peers and neighbourhood form the mesosystem whose
    interaction with the child socialises him/her to influence his/her development.
    Mesosystem in this case is about the connections and interrelationships between the home
    and school. Parental/guardian support for OVC in this case will have a direct relationship
    on how the child performs in school and at home.

    Bronfenbrenner (1979) maintained that the family influences all aspects of a child’s
    development including language, nutrition, security, health and beliefs. Thus, a child who
    attends school is a product of his/her family. The relationships children develop in school
    become critical to their positive development due to the amount of time they spend in
    school. It is in the school that children develop relationships with adults outside their
    family for the first time. These connections help children develop cognitively and
    emotionally (Addison, 1992). OVC however, may not have such an advantage due to the
    challenges they go through both at home and in school that are likely to impact negatively
    in their education. Thus requiring education interventions that would enable them
    overcome these challenges.

    Research methodology

    A mixed method approach involving descriptive and qualitative designs were utilised in
    this study (Creswell, 2012, Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). Self-report questionnaires for
    learners and educators were designed to capture both descriptive and qualitative data
    concurrently through structured and unstructured questions.

    86 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    The study was carried out in public primary schools in Soweto. Learners in grade seven
    were targeted for the study as they were perceived to be able to read and answer questions
    in English. The study targeted public primary schools since OVC cannot afford the cost in
    private schools. One hundred and seven participants from seven public primary schools
    participated in the study, involving forty two teachers and sixty five OVC (43 boys and 22
    girls). The OVC in grade seven who participated in the study were aged between ten and
    sixteen years with majority aged twelve (33.8%) and thirteen (36.9%).

    Questionnaires for educators and learners were utilised to seek information on educational
    support provided for OVC, with a focus on the challenges experienced by teachers in
    supporting these children. The questionnaires also sought information on the possible
    interventions that could be utilised to mitigate the challenges. The questionnaires were
    piloted in March 2015 in one public primary school in Soweto where nine learners and six
    teachers filled the learner and teacher questionnaires respectively. The questionnaires were
    validated using “respondent validation” (Silverman, 2001, p. 235) where participants in the
    pilot were taken through their responses in the questionnaire to establish whether the
    questions and responses matched their own experiences. Suggestions given by participants
    were utilised to improve the questionnaire used to collect data for this study. Actual data
    collection was conducted in May and June 2014.

    A triangulation of data sources (descriptive and qualitative data from structured and
    unstructured questions) and respondents (learners and teachers) were utilised to enhance
    reliability of the findings (Creswell, 2012; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998). To enhance
    trustworthiness of qualitative data actual words of the participants have been used to
    report the findings of the study.

    Data from structured questions were captured into the statistical package for social
    sciences (SPSS) which were processed and presented in descriptive statistics involving
    frequencies and percentages on tables ready for analysis. Qualitative data from
    unstructured questions, were typed into text, coded and categorised into themes ready for
    analysis. Qualitative data were analysed alongside descriptive data to provide an overview
    of the educational support, challenges and possible interventions to mitigate the identified

    Ethical considerations

    Ethical clearance to conduct the study was acquired from the Ethics Committee of the
    Faculty of Education at the university where the authors were employed. Clearance to
    conduct the study in public primary schools was granted by the Gauteng Department of
    Education. Further clearance to access public primary schools in Soweto was granted by
    the District Director, Johannesburg Central District. Permission to conduct the study in
    schools was granted by the principals of schools. Written consent to participate in the
    study was sought from parents/guardians for learners and from teachers who participated
    in the study. To enhance confidentiality, no names of participants or schools are
    mentioned in this article. Letters of the alphabet have been used to identify the schools

    Mwoma & Pillay 87

    that participated while participants have been assigned codes to identify learners and
    teachers and the schools they came from. For instance learners are given the code ‘L’
    while teachers are given the code ‘T’. Each code is given a number to show whether the
    participant was number 1, 2 or 3 from a given school, such as school ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’.
    Therefore in establishing who said what the codes will be indicated as follows: L1SA
    denoting learner 1 from school A, T6SC denoting teacher 6 from school C.

    Results and discussions of the findings

    The results of this study are presented and discussed under three themes that emerged
    from data analysis, namely: provision of educational support for OVC, challenges
    experienced by teachers in providing educational support for OVC and possible
    intervention measures to mitigate the challenges.

    Provision of educational support for OVC

    National economic development can be enhanced by investing in quality education where
    there are enough teachers and educational learning tools for children (Baxen, Nsubuga &
    Botha 2014; Robeyns, 200; Tikly, 2011). This calls for all learners to acquire quality
    education regardless of their status. Our study revealed that the government through the
    implementation of a no fee policy in schools, enabled OVC to access their basic
    education. This was confirmed by 57 (88%) learners indicating that the government paid
    their fees and 48 (74%) learners indicating that this support enabled many of them to
    access education. Sixty four (98.5%) learners and 36 (85%) teachers revealed that the
    schools provided books and stationery for all children while 46 (71%) learners revealed
    that different organisations provided school uniforms for them.

    Findings further revealed that schools through the government soup kitchens provided
    meals to OVC where 63 (96%) learners and 38 (90.5%) teachers confirmed this fact. Fifty
    eight (89.2%) learners and 30 (71.4%) teachers indicated that teachers encouraged learners
    who were not performing well to work hard in order to improve in their academic
    performance. This support is geared towards ensuring that all children regardless of their
    status are able to access basic education.

    It is observable from the above findings that the department of education, the schools and
    other stakeholders have done their best to ensure that OVC in public primary schools are
    supported to acquire their basic education. However, looking at the percentages, one can
    tell that there is a small percentage of OVC who are not getting the kind of support
    reported. Therefore it is important to explore the challenges teachers experience in
    meeting the educational needs for OVC.

    Challenges in providing educational support for OVC

    The challenges discussed in this section relates to: teachers’ support for OVC, provision
    of feeding program, and support from guardians/parents.

    88 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    Teacher’s support for OVC

    Schools and other educational service providers have always been aware of children or
    adolescents in their midst struggling to stay in school due to difficult or even catastrophic
    life circumstances (OSFESP & OSISA, 2012). The difficulties learners experience may be
    worsened if teachers are not able to identify such learners in good time for adequate
    intervention. Findings from our study indicated that the challenges deterring teachers
    from supporting OVC include lack of sufficient time for individual attention to OVC. As
    one teacher said, “we have no sufficient time to support individual children” (T2SA).
    Though the teacher did not give a specific reason why they do not have sufficient time, it
    could be possible that having a syllabus to cover within a given period coupled with
    having a large number of learners who need individual attention can be contributing
    factors for lacking sufficient time for individual attention. Wood and Goba (2011) noted
    that teachers trained in life orientation felt a sense of being marginalised by their
    colleagues who left OVC for them to deal with. On the other hand OVC experienced
    stigma which was challenging for life orientation teachers who could not prevent it from
    happening. The teachers also revealed that they would work for long hours so as to attend
    to the needs of OVC as well as attend to their lessons and assessment (Wood & Goba,

    Reading and writing were other challenges that OVC struggled with. Twenty six (40%)
    learners reported that they were not able to write like other children while 14 (23%)
    indicated they were not able to read like others. This was confirmed by a teacher who
    revealed that “some OVC struggle in reading and writing” (T3SC). This challenge could
    be connected to lack of sufficient time for teachers to attend to learners individually,
    leaving OVC struggling on their own. Without the ability to read and write the child’s
    learning process may be affected negatively as reading and writing are core activities in the
    learning process of all subjects studied in school.

    Lack of concentration among OVC, submitting school work late and not doing their
    school/homework were other challenges cited as likely to have negative influence on
    OVC’s education. Teachers from different schools mentioned “OVC lack concentration
    in school work” (T3SC), and “OVC submit their school work late” (T3SC). The
    experiences OVC go through at home and in school may influence how they concentrate
    and do their school work. Mwoma & Pillay (2015) noted that parents/guardians were not
    supportive to OVC in relation to homework. Pillay (2011) revealed that learners from
    child headed households lacked support and they mostly had negative experiences in their
    homes characterised by abject poverty. As a result of their poverty stricken conditions,
    they were often sad, depressed and angry, which could negatively affect their
    concentration and academic performance.

    Low self-esteem among OVC was found to be a contributing factor to poor performance
    in education as T6SA said “self-esteem is … [related to] low morale and their
    performances are disturbed”. High numbers of OVC were also reported to be a challenge
    for teachers to meet their educational needs, as another teacher stated, “the number of
    OVC is increasing and somehow I cannot afford to meet their educational needs” (T3SE).

    Mwoma & Pillay 89

    This was worsened by guardians/parents of OVC not cooperating with teachers whenever
    invited to school on education matters. One teacher from school E reported this by
    saying: “guardians do not honour their school invitations” (T2SE).

    Absenteeism and lateness to school were other challenges likely to negatively influence
    OVC’s academic performance. Teachers from different schools reported that: “they don’t
    come to school regularly” (T1SE); “there is poor school attendance, and they come late”
    (T6SB). Although our study did not focus on the reasons why OVC absent themselves
    from school, reasons given by Mishra and Bignami-Van Assche (2008) and those by
    Eberson and Eloff may apply to our case. Mishra and Bignami-Van Assche (2008)
    revealed that various reasons could make OVC be at greater risk of absenteeism and
    dropping out of school. The reasons according to them would include inability to pay
    fees, need to help with household labour or having to stay at home to care for sick parents
    or younger children. Ebersohn and Eloff (2002) also observed that the marked decline in
    school attendance in the South African education landscape is due to the effects of
    HIV/AIDS, sickness, poverty and stigma, child labour or caring for sick relatives. The
    reasons given could attempt to explain why OVC in our study could not attend school
    regularly which is likely to impact negatively in their performance in education.

    School feeding program

    Food and nutrition are important components for OVC’s support (PEPFAR, 2006).
    USAID and CRS (2008) pointed out that school feeding programs can enable children in
    general and OVC in particular to access education by addressing hunger and the need to
    work to survive. Findings from our study revealed that although schools had feeding
    programs, some OVC lacked meals in their homes compelling them to come to school
    without having breakfast. One teacher observed “some OVC have no food at home, they
    come to school hungry” (T3SB), and another said “some OVC have no breakfast when
    they come to school” (T7SB). Eight (12%) learners also confirmed this fact that OVC did
    not have meals at home. Due to lack of food at home, some OVC would even come to
    school when they were sick to have one meal a day provided in school. While teachers saw
    the feeding program as useful, learners had a different view where they reported that they
    are usually not served enough food at school. Learners from school A, had this to say:
    “my problem is having meals in school” (L3SA), “they don’t give us much food in
    school” (L7SA).

    Some schools are trying to provide food parcels for OVC to take home, but they
    experience further challenges in providing enough for family members. For others some
    OVC lacked lunch boxes to carry the food home. One teacher said “we have a shortage of
    resources as the school has insufficient means to meet them half way because they should
    take food parcels home” (T3SG), and another remarked “OVC often do not have a lunch
    box to carry food home” (T5SA).

    90 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    Support from guardians/parents

    Ebersohn and Eloff, (2002) observed that due to the death of parents and close relatives
    as a result of HIV/AIDS, families have been disrupted causing an increase of destitute
    and abandoned children in South Africa. They further argue that when parents die, some
    orphans are left under the care of aged grandparents or under older siblings to care for
    them. This was supported by findings from our study where OVC were reported to be
    relocating from relative to relative while others could not do their homework indicating
    that they lacked supervision and support in their home. Teachers from different schools
    reported this by saying: “other learners change their location often moving from relative
    to relative” (T2SE), and “they don’t have a support from the people they are staying with,
    especially with homework” (T1SC).

    Cleanliness among OVC was another challenge indicating that OVC are not supervised at
    home to ensure personal hygiene. Teachers reported this by saying: “they are often very
    dirty even on Mondays suggesting that they have no one to take care of them over the
    weekend” (T5SA), “some of the OVC come to school with dirty clothing” (T4SB). Sund
    (2006) observed that parents/guardians have the greatest responsibility to protect their
    children by supervising them. Being the first teachers and protectors of their children,
    parents have a primary responsibility of ensuring that children have a conducive social
    environment at home.

    Bronfenbrenner (1979) identified the home as the microsystem where children are
    socialised to learn how to interact with other social agents in society. Supervision of
    children by parents/guardians ensures that children become responsible and are not
    rendered vulnerable to the law by becoming violent to other children or by destroying
    property (Sund, 2006). Supervision at home could include ensuring that children are
    encouraged to do home/schoolwork, observe personal hygiene, and that
    parents/guardians work hand in hand with teachers to ensure that OVC attend school
    regularly as these were major negative challenges reported to be influencing the education
    for OVC.

    Intervention strategies in providing educational support for OVC

    The environment in which the child lives plays a critical role in ensuring that the child’s
    basic needs are met. Bronfenbrenner (1979) through his ecological systems theory argued
    that the ecological systems surrounding the child directly or indirectly influence his/her
    development. The system represents the family, school, the government and the culture
    and each of these play a role directly or indirectly in the child’s education. Neal and Neal
    (2013) maintained that these systems are networked where each system is defined in terms
    of the social relationships surrounding the child and the different levels relating to one
    another in an overlapping but non-nested way. They further argued that the family is a
    microsystem where the child has direct experiences and interactions with family members
    face to face. Mesosystem according to them, could involve the interaction between the
    parents and teachers about the child’s behaviour both at home and in school in relation to
    his/her education (Neal & Neal, 2013). For instance, a child may not be involved in

    Mwoma & Pillay 91

    making the education policies but these policies will influence the child’s school
    experiences. Cultural influences or ideologies may also influence the child’s educational
    experiences. For instance, societies that emphasise the importance of teachers being
    accountable on the standards of education in the community school, will have
    implications on how children will perform in their education (Neal & Neal, 2013).
    Therefore, in coming up with intervention strategies, the family, the school and the
    government will play a key role in ensuring that OVC are supported to acquire quality
    basic education.

    Supporting OVC with school work

    Mwoma & Pillay (2015) maintained that in supporting OVC, life orientation skills are
    critical for OVC especially those taking care of their ailing parents/guardians. However
    this support was missing as 54% of the teachers and 31% of the OVC indicated that they
    are not taught how to care for sick persons at home, implying the children struggle on
    their own. This may have indirect influence on their participation in education as they may
    not attend school regularly or do homework.

    Among the strategies identified that could be used to improve support for OVC with
    school work at the meso and exosystem levels is the need for government to employ more
    teachers to support OVC after school hours. One teacher stated “the Department of
    Education should employ extra teachers to help after school hours with school work so
    that they must not be left behind” (T3SC). Another said “teachers can remain with them
    and help them with their homework” (T1SE)

    Home visits and having information for OVC were reported to be further strategies that
    involve the micro and mesosystem levels that could be used to establish the challenges
    OVC go through while at home and how best they can be helped. In supporting this
    strategy, teachers said “the teachers should visit homes to verify and have enough
    information in order to support OVC accordingly” (T3SG), and “as a registered teacher, I
    should know the status of every learner in my class as this will make it easier to know who
    needs help where” (T2SD).

    Participants also suggested that there should be a social worker in each school, to whom
    OVC could be referred for further support. One teacher from school C supported this
    strategy by saying: “If they (government) could put one social worker in school so that
    when children experience difficulties, they can be referred to them” (T2SC). Learners
    from different schools also revealed that they needed extra time, extra lessons and
    devoted teachers to support them. This was captured in the following words: “We should
    be given extra time and extra lessons” (L2SC), “We can be helped by going to school
    weekend and having more teachers in the school and more classrooms” (L8SA). A learner
    from school G, was of the opinion that learners who cannot read and write should be
    given extra practice: “I think the reading problem can be solved by helping the children
    who can’t read by influencing them to practice harder. The ones who can’t write very well
    by starting to teach them spelling” (L2SG).

    92 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions

    Findings further indicated that for OVC to be supported effectively there is need for a
    collective responsibility from teachers, parents/guardians, and government to ensure that
    OVC are supported in their educational needs. Each of these stakeholders should play
    their roles effectively to support OVC both at home and in school in line with
    Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) findings that the home, the school, the government and the
    community at large have a critical role in a child’s development and learning.

    Provision of feeding programs

    Feeding children is very important in ensuring that they have energy to play and learn and
    have good health. Findings from our study indicated that some children came to school
    without breakfast, indicating that they could be starving at home. To mitigate this,
    interviewees suggested that there is a need to provide food parcels for OVC to take home.
    Teachers from different schools supported this strategy by saying: “these learners need
    support in totality … they need to be given food parcels on a daily basis to take home”
    (T4SD), and “we (the school/government) must supply these learners with more food”
    (T5SA). One learner from school E supported this by saying: “if I am thinking of solving
    the problem at home we should be given some food and soup to eat” (L2SE). This
    finding is consistent with Santa-Ana et al’s (2011) findings revealing that various
    intervention strategies to improve children’s nutrition may include the provision of
    vouchers to purchase food, or even the provision of cooked meals.

    USAID and CRS (2008) maintain that take home rations have been shown to promote
    participation, progression and retention of OVC in education. They further argue that,
    children who are not hungry are better able to concentrate in class. Therefore, providing
    food parcels for OVC is critical in ensuring that they do not go to school hungry.

    Support for OVC from guardians/parents

    McGuckin and Minton (2014) in supporting the ecological systems theory maintain that
    the environment in which a child grows up, plays a critical role in shaping the relationship
    between the child and his/her development. The family, school and neighbourhood has
    the most and earliest influence on the child’s development (Krishnan, 2010). The
    relationship at this level could be bi-directional. Bronfenbrenner (1979) wrote that the
    child’s family influence the behaviour of the child and vice versa. Thus providing the
    educational needs for OVC by family members and the school community is important in
    enhancing the educational performance of OVC. In addition, the family being the optimal
    environment for a child to develop, assistance programs should be designed to enable
    OVC to remain in a loving family situation to maintain stability, care, predictability and

    Findings from our study revealed that, in order for OVC to get adequate support from
    guardians/parents there is a need for workshops to sensitise them to the need to fully
    support OVC with school/homework and to supervise their personal hygiene at home.
    Two teachers added “guardians must be taken for a workshop on taking care of the

    Mwoma & Pillay 93

    orphans since they are under their care” (T2SG), and “the department of education must
    support workshops for guardians of these poor learners” (T1SC).

    PEPFAR (2006) maintained that supporting families helps build a protective environment
    for vulnerable children. Krishnan (2010) also pointed out that what happens in a
    microsystem such as home where a child lives, could influence what happens in the school
    and vice versa. It is imperative therefore, that capacity building for guardians/parents on
    the importance of supporting children under their care while at home and in school is an
    option that cannot be overlooked.

    Regular home visits by social workers was another strategy deemed to be supportive
    especially for social workers to identify the various needs of OVC alongside the needs of
    parents/guardians with a view of identifying the appropriate ways of meeting those needs.
    Teachers stated “social workers should take responsibility by checking these OVC in their
    homes and support them” (T2SB), and “social workers must make follow-up visits to find
    out why these children do not attend school regularly” (T2SE).

    Identifying needy guardians/parents for OVC and providing them with social grants was
    another strategy cited to ensure that they are able to purchase necessities for these
    children to promote their personal hygiene. Two participants supported this strategy by
    saying “social workers should take responsibility by checking OVC’s homes to support
    their guardians access social grants” (T2SB), and “if I am thinking of solving the problem
    at home I should be given some bathing or even washing soap” (L2SE). Although it was
    not clear on who should provide this kind of support, the government through social
    grants would be in a better position to provide for this need.


    We would argue that although the government has supported OVC through a no fee
    policy, provision of learning materials and feeding programs, more needs to be done such
    as engaging teachers from the community to cope with the high numbers of OVC
    reported in public schools. This will give teachers time for individual attention and to
    coach OVC after school hours to avoid challenges in reading and writing.

    Lack of food at home may have negative impact on the child’s health since a hungry child
    may not have energy to play and to actively participate in his/her learning. Therefore
    introducing feeding programs at home will ensure continuity of OVC having enough food
    at home and in school to promote their health and learning.

    Absenteeism from school and lateness may have negative impact on OVC’s academic
    performance. Research confirms that orphans from different countries in Sub-Saharan
    Africa including South Africa, experience lower school attendance than non-orphans
    (Bhargava, 2005, Case & Ardington, 2006, Operario et al., 2008). This requires
    government through schools to sensitise parents/guardians on the importance of sending
    OVC to school regularly and supervising them in their homework.

    94 Educational support for orphans and vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions


    This work is based on research supported by the South African Research Chairs Initiative
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    South Africa. South African Research Chair: Education and Care in Childhood, Faculty of
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    Dr Teresa Mwoma is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Early Childhood Studies,
    School of Education, Kenyatta University, Kenya. She was previously a Post-Doctoral
    Research Fellow in Education and Care in Childhood at the University of Johannesburg,
    South Africa.

    Professor Jace Pillay is an educational psychologist and holds the South African
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    Please cite as: Mwoma, T. & Pillay, J. (2016). Educational support for orphans and
    vulnerable children in primary schools: Challenges and interventions Issues in Educational
    Research, 26(1), 82-97.

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    Moving beyond schedules, testing and other
    duties as deemed necessary by the principal:
    The school counselor’s role in trauma informed

    Penny B. Howell, Shelley Thomas, Damien Sweeney, & Judi Vanderhaar

  • Abstract
  • : Researchers and practitioners in fields such as psy-
    chology and social work increasingly recognize the significant
    need for schools, in general, to be sites for delivery of trauma-
    informed practices. Given the extent and nature of trauma expo-
    sure in our schools, we believe it is critical that the primary
    individual supporting trauma-informed practices is physically
    present in the school daily, integrated within school routines, and
    has ongoing relationships with students, teachers, and staff. In this
    article we will reexamine the role of the School Counselor (SC)
    through the lens of This We Believe: The Keys to Educating Young
    Adolescents and illuminate the many reasons the SC’s voice and
    perspective is essential to school-wide enactment of trauma-
    informed practices. We believe SCs need a voice at the table
    regarding school-wide decisions and advocate that they lead the
    collective charge in trauma-informed practices in schools to best
    serve middle level students. By sharing one voice and accepting
    the role of SC as the mental health experts in our schools, we will
    see transformative change in education while serving our youth in
    need by leading trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive schools.

    Keywords: school counselors, school culture and climate,
    trauma-informed practices

    This We Believe characteristics:
    ● Comprehensive guidance and support services meet the
    needs of young adolescents.

    ● Educators value young adolescents and are prepared to
    teach them.

    ● Every student’s academic and personal development is
    guided by an adult advocate.

    ● The school environment is inviting, safe, inclusive, and
    supportive of all.

    When considering the role of the School Counselor
    (SC), a variety of tasks come to mind. Whether it is school-
    wide scheduling, guiding students towards a future career,
    completing special education meetings and paperwork, or
    organizing standardized exams, the school counseling role
    is one of the most undefined in our middle schools.
    Surprisingly, SCs typically do not study the aforementioned
    tasks in their Counseling Education Programs. Instead, they
    are trained to meet the mental health needs of the student
    (American School Counselor Association [ASCA], 2012;
    Gruman, Marston, & Koon, 2013), including, among
    others, nurturing resilience and creating and supporting
    opportunities for students to overcome the barriers they
    often face. In some cases, administrators often leave school
    counselors out of administrative leadership meetings where
    important decisions are made about the direction of the
    school. The degree of trauma exposure among our ado-
    lescent students makes it an imperative for school leader-
    ship to engage in ensuring school-wide systems and
    practices are in place. There is no better point person in
    school leadership to facilitate this effort than school

    There is no better point person in school leader-
    ship to facilitate this [school-wide trauma-
    informed] effort than school counselors.

    26 Middle School Journal September 2019

    In this article, we will reexamine the role of the SC
    through the lens of This We Believe: The Keys to Educating Young
    Adolescents (The Association for Middle Level Education (for-
    merly National Middle School Association [NMSA], 2010),
    specifically the characteristics related toCulture andCommunity
    (NMSA, 2010), and illuminate the many reasons their voices
    and perspectives are essential to school-wide enactment of
    trauma-informed practices. As a statewide Program
    Coordinator for Comprehensive School Counseling, univer-
    sity-based teacher educators, and a statewide Program
    Consultant in the Division of Student Success focused on
    trauma-informed practice and youth mental health first aid,
    we believe it is essential SCs have a voice at the table regarding
    school-wide decisions. Further, we also advocate that they lead
    the collective charge in trauma-informed practices in schools
    to best serve middle level students.

    What does it mean to be
    The conception of trauma-informed care emerged from the
    disciplines of medicine and mental health services to better
    respond to those with a history of trauma who were seeking
    their services (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment,
    2014). Commensurate with this response was an increasing
    recognition of the relationship between childhood trau-
    matic stress and significant health and other challenges
    experienced later in life (Anda et al., 2006; Felitti et al.,
    1998). In their study of Adverse Childhood Experiences
    (ACEs), Felitti et al. (1998) found a relationship between
    childhood exposure to adverse experiences and multiple
    risk factors in adulthood that can result in earlier mortality.
    Researchers and practitioners across disciplines continue to
    refer to ACEs, described later, in framing their responses
    and supports for those affected by trauma (Wolpow,
    Johnson, Hertel, & Kincaid, 2016).

    Now broadly adopted nationally, those responses are
    referred to across disciplines as “trauma-informed care”
    (Thomas, Crosby, &Vanderhaar, 2019). Substance Abuse and
    Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center
    for Substance Abuse Treatment (2014) provided a relevant
    approach including acknowledgement of the prevalence of
    trauma, recognition of the impact of these experiences on all
    individuals, use of trauma-sensitive practices and policies, and
    avoidance of actions that may re-traumatize the individual.
    Hanson and Lang (2016) recognized a need to look across
    fields involved in trauma-informed care to clarify the term

    and understand how it was operationalized. As a result of their
    review across multiple organizations, they mapped 15 com-
    ponents resulting in identification of three domains: (a) per-
    sonnel/professional development; (b) changes within
    organizations; and (c) changes in practice. Middle schools fall
    within the larger, trauma-informed, multi-tiered child service
    system of care that includes the school (Chafouleas, Johnson,
    Overstreet, & Santos, 2016; National Child Traumatic Stress
    Network [NCTSN], 2017) with the SC playing a role within
    each domain.

  • Trauma and the young adolescent
  • Early adolescence is marked by rapid development across the
    spectrum of physical, emotional, and intellectual changes,
    and includes “growth related to puberty as well as a range of
    psychosocial changes associated with developing an increas-
    ingly refined identity” (Mann, Kristjansson, Sigfusdottir, &
    Smith, 2014, p. 2). Development of adolescents “lead[s] to the
    maturation of a physical body, but the brain lags behind”
    (Child Welfare Information Gateway [CWIG], 2015). The
    adolescent brain undergoes significant changes (Blakemore,
    Burnett, & Dahl, 2010; CWIG, 2015); however, the frontal
    lobe, the part of the brain impacting decision making, has yet
    to fully mature. The lack of maturation in this region of the
    brain is associated with unpredictable and impulsive behavior,
    forgetfulness, increased risk-taking, and questionable deci-
    sion making. To further complicate the reality of young ado-
    lescent development, the limbic system within the brain,
    which controls and regulates emotions, also lacks maturation
    resulting in stronger, more unpredictable emotional
    responses to the experience of growing up (Blakemore, 2008;
    Chamberlain, 2009; CWIG 2015).

    Adolescent students with a history of trauma can have
    long term effects on brain development and suffer from
    more extreme impulsivity, increased difficulty with higher-
    level thinking and feeling as well as significant delays in
    academic and social skills (Whittle et al., 2013).
    Researchers have also noted that “exposure to trauma
    impairs early adolescent developmental tasks (Frydman &
    Mayor, 2017, p. 238). The American Psychiatric
    Association (2000) [APA] suggested that childhood
    trauma can lead to various negative mental health condi-
    tions during adolescence. These conditions range from
    posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD), substance abuse,
    suicide attempts, and depressive disorders (APA, 2000;
    Gallus, Shreffler, Merten, & Cox, 2015). 27

    A trauma informed middle school
    Consistent with This We Believe (National Middle School
    Association, 2010), trauma-informed practices highlight
    the need for schools to create an “environment [that] is
    inviting, safe, inclusive and supportive of all”(p. 33),
    implement structures so “every student’s academic and
    personal development [is] guided by an adult advoca-
    te”(p. 35), and provide “comprehensive guidance and
    support services [to] meet the needs of young adoles-
    cents” (p. 37). Most importantly, trauma-informed prac-
    tices ensure that “health and wellness are supported in
    curricula, school-wide programs and related policies” (p.
    38) that benefit all students, particularly those impacted
    by trauma.

    A trauma informed approach in middle schools means
    the climate and culture is grounded in an awareness of
    emotional vulnerabilities of this age group and strive to
    treat the students with respect, compassion, and support. It
    also means that all elements of the school such as instruc-
    tional choices, classroom management, and building-wide
    policies and practices, are integrated within the aforemen-
    tioned larger system of care for affected adolescents and
    their families. It also means that all adults (a) realize the
    impact of trauma and pathways to healing; (b) recognize
    the signs and symptoms of trauma in students, staff, and
    families; (c) respond to trauma by incorporating that
    knowledge into practices, procedures, and policies, and (d)
    resist traumatization of students by eliminating practices
    that can trigger students exposed to trauma. (SAMHSA,

    Researchers and practitioners in fields such as psy-
    chology and social work increasingly recognize the signif-
    icant need for schools, in general, to be sites for delivery
    of trauma-informed practices (Chafouleas et al., 2016).
    Because the inherent changes occurring in the physical,
    emotional, social, and mental lives of adolescents can
    sometimes mimic signs and symptoms of mental health
    challenges, it is especially critical that adults in middle
    schools are aware of the signs and symptoms in their
    students. Additionally, the more trauma students experi-
    ence, the more at risk they are for engaging in dangerous
    behavior, decreased academic performance, and
    increased school absences (Perfect, Turley, Carlson,
    Yohanna, & Saint Gilles, 2016). These results necessitate
    connecting middle school students with the SC and others
    who can support them, as well as ensuring all school-wide
    practices are trauma-informed (Cole, Eisner, Gregory, &

    Ristuccia, 2013). Given the evidence that trauma-informed
    practices can help educators get in front of these risks,
    they are then able to engage students in unique ways that
    offer support, understanding, and draw from students’
    strengths. In spite of the complexities inherent in working
    across these elements, middle school environments
    include several organizational structures within which to
    provide trauma-informed interventions for those who
    need them. The middle school, with its routines, consis-
    tent presence in adolescents’ lives, and intentionality
    around relationship building, can play a unique role
    within the larger system of care.

  • The critical role of the school counselor
  • Schools have many options when it comes to who can
    deliver mental health services; among these are school
    social workers, school psychologists, drug and alcohol
    counselors, and outside mental health consultants.
    However, typically these professionals are not housed
    within school buildings and are not part of the day-to-day
    operations of middle schools. Given the extent and nature
    of trauma exposure, we believe it is critical that the pri-
    mary individual supporting trauma-informed practices is
    physically present in the school daily, integrated within
    school routines, and has ongoing relationships with stu-
    dents, teachers, and staff. Importantly, given these criteria,
    we assert that the SC is well-positioned to enact the
    American Institutes for Research’s (2016) guiding princi-
    ples for school-wide implementation of trauma-informed
    programs in five key domains: (a) supporting staff devel-
    opment; (b) creating a safe and supportive environment;
    (c) assessing needs and planning services; (d) involving
    consumers; and (e) adapting practices. Additionally,
    trauma-informed care should connect across the school,
    and the approach and understanding embraced by every
    adult to ensure a safe, inclusive environment with consis-
    tent policies and practices (National Child Traumatic
    Stress Network, Schools Committee, 2017). A whole
    school approach needs to include willing staff members at
    every grade level led by a visible, collaborative leader like
    a SC who can coordinate a range of efforts across the

    In addition to their educational training, SCs are often
    very knowledgeable about students’ histories. While many
    topics discussed in a school counseling office can be confi-
    dential, it is not out of bounds for SCs to inform teachers and

    28 Middle School Journal September 2019

    other stakeholders in a student’s life about issues and con-
    cerns and request grace and support for the student. As
    a result, SCs become the conduit to teachers and stake-
    holders so they may be aware that extra support is needed.

    Finally, SCs have the capacity to facilitate meetings
    that include school staff members, parents/guardians,
    community members who are a part of the student’s life
    and the student to better understand the student and
    their decisions. This group also offers support to the stu-
    dent. By bringing family members, staff members and the
    student to the table, an action plan can be created and
    implemented that includes weekly or bi-weekly check-ins
    along with accountability sheets or progress monitoring.
    These tools help the student become more accountable to
    the goals set in the meeting and serve as a way for SCs to
    quickly check in on the student’s well-being.

  • Critical foundational beliefs
  • Establishing a trauma informed middle school requires
    consideration of many aspects of schooling. Critical foun-
    dational beliefs about children, schools, care, and learning
    can impact the success of implementation. We contend
    that supporting a strengths-based perspective and estab-
    lishing a receptive school climate are two critical founda-
    tional features of a trauma-informed school.

    Supporting a strengths-based, “healing centered”
    perspective. A trauma-informed school ensures that
    teachers, administrators, and SCs work from a strengths
    perspective that promotes healing and dispels deficit views
    of young adolescents. Nearly 47% of children experience
    at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) (Felitti
    et al., 1998). ACEs are potentially traumatic events that
    can have both immediate as well as long term impact on
    middle level students (Felitti et al., 1998), affecting their
    ability to cope. Further, these experiences may occur to
    the family and community as well as the child, including
    circumstances such as maltreatment, stress within the
    family, violence in the community and natural disasters
    (van der Kolk, 2005). While 47% is the national average of
    children experiencing ACEs, the rates vary by state,
    region, and school. Given the high incidents of these
    experiences among the middle school population, as well
    as the increased risk for trauma exposure in adolescence
    (Ruzek et al., 2007), we encourage a strengths-based
    approach that recognizes middle level students’ assets and
    resilience (Zacarian, Alvarez-Ortiz, & Haynes, 2017). To
    that end, every school-based professional in contact with

    students should resist subscribing to deficit perspectives
    and limited views of middle schoolers. Deficit perspectives
    have profound consequences for students and adults. This
    line of thinking may shape attitudes and behaviors among
    school staff, who may contend that there is nothing they
    can do to support students. They may fail to recognize the
    strengths and resilience of students who experience
    trauma. Thus, we advocate a strengths-based approach
    and a “healing centered” (Ginwright, 2018) stance that
    can be led by a SC in order to create a “shift” in how
    middle school educators approach students and their
    circumstances, viewing them holistically and focusing on
    their well-being.

    Establishing a receptive climate. A trauma-informed
    school supports students by working to address structures
    and/or policies that might cause trauma or create
    circumstances that retraumatize students (Oehlberg,
    2008). Instead of responding to behavior caused by overly
    restrictive or non-responsive practices, a proactive stance
    creates a climate and culture where students who have
    experienced trauma receive the support they need to be
    successful in school. For example, Lisa Terrance, an
    experienced SC who works at Metro Middle School in
    a large mid-western city, describes the importance of
    trauma-informed care at the middle school level and the
    significance of proactive practices by teachers:

    Having teachers form relationships with students
    makes it easier to spot when a kid struggles with
    previous trauma, so we can get them the support they
    need. Teachers and instructional aides are our front
    lines. They are the first to spot any issues, and when
    informed, can get the supports needed for their stu-
    dents. I work with kids all the time that cope with so
    much trauma, grown adults would struggle to main-
    tain composure.

    Ms. Terrance’s story illustrates of the importance SCs
    facilitation of and reinforcement of strong relationship-
    building between teachers and students, as well as the
    critical need for trauma-informed practices in middle
    schools. When teachers and SCs have sound relationships
    with their students and are aware of the effects of trauma,
    they can proactively create a climate that will help students
    reach their potential.

  • Charge of school counselors
  • For SCs to lead the trauma-informed work at their schools,
    the discrepancy between SCs as mental health 29

    professionals and the mental health experts in their
    respective schools must be a strong consideration for dis-
    tricts across the state and country. Furthermore, SCs
    across districts and states must share one voice in accept-
    ing this as their role. Because the role has often been
    undefined and quite frankly, unclear, for so many educa-
    tors (including SCs), there is a wide array of what SCs are
    expected to do. This role differs throughout any given
    state and can even differ among schools that are only a few
    miles away from one another. By sharing one voice and
    accepting the role of SC as the mental health experts in
    our schools, we will see transformative change in educa-
    tion while serving our youth in need by leading trauma-
    informed and trauma-sensitive schools.

    To align the role of SCs, the authors of this manu-
    script recommend that districts and schools adopt the
    American School Counseling Association National Model
    (ASCA, 2012) or that they follow identified state SC stan-
    dards of practice. The ASCA model submits that each SC
    should have a SC to student relationship of 250:1 and
    spend a majority of their time in direct services to students
    with only a small fraction of their time in indirect services.
    (e.g. testing, administrative work, discipling students,
    etc.). For many SCs in our mid-western state and across
    the nation, their practice is reversed. Thus, SCs often
    spend most of their time in indirect services. The ASCA
    National Model also advises SCs to become members of
    the educational team who use leadership, advocacy, and
    collaboration skills to promote system change as appro-
    priate. To facilitate this systemic change, schools should
    consider implementation of the four components of the
    ASCA National Model (2012) for SCs, (a) foundation; (b)
    management; (c) delivery; and (d) accountability. By
    intentionally naming trauma informed teaching within
    a comprehensive school counseling program (ASCA,
    2019) schools can move toward creating supportive struc-
    tures for all students and stakeholders within their schools.


    Addressing the foundation aspect of the ASCA National
    Model suggests that SCs need to identify program needs
    (i.e. trauma-informed practices), enhance the learning
    process for all students through focusing on academics,
    career and personal/social development and ultimately
    understand the professional competencies of the profes-
    sion to guide their decision-making. By having a strong
    foundation for their work, SCs have an opportunity to

    place a high priority on trauma-informed practices by
    creating strong School Counseling Core Curriculum
    (ASCA, 2014) lessons (formerly known as guidance les-
    sons) for all students. These lessons help students to learn
    and understand skills that may help them begin to work
    through some of their own trauma and help SCs to better
    structure their time to meet the needs of their students.
    For example, a focus on social and emotional health has
    been a long-held, developmentally appropriate practice in
    middle level schools (Jackson & Davis, 2000; National
    Middle School Association, 2010). Social emotional health
    is a cornerstone of trauma-informed teaching which has
    the potential to improve students’ overall health (Taylor,
    Oberle, Durlak, & Weissberg, 2017). When school and
    classroom structures and routines allow for student dis-
    covery, collaboration, meaningful discussion, guided
    reflective practices, choice, and flexible learning oppor-
    tunities, it creates a climate where young adolescents feel
    respected, valued, and engaged. Further, in spaces where
    students have choice and decision-making opportunities,
    it is easier to engage them in metacognitive work that will
    lead to social and emotional growth.


    SCs can develop competencies and self-assessment tools
    through the management component that will help them
    assess and measure where they are in developing a trauma-
    informed and trauma-sensitive school. This component
    also allows SCs to assess their use of time to evaluate or
    reevaluate their direct or indirect services to students.
    Through the management of the school counseling pro-
    gram, SCs will also develop curriculum for small and large
    group core curriculum school counseling lessons that may
    teach students proactive ways to cope with a variety of

    One example would be implementing and supporting
    mindfulness throughout the school as a core component of
    being trauma-informed (Sibinga, Webb, Ghazarian, & Ellen,
    2016). The inherently transitory aspects of young adolescence
    coupledwith the development ofmetacognitionmakemiddle
    school a perfect place to implement the practice of mindful-
    ness to teach regulation of both thoughts and emotions, as
    well as the variety of other benefits the practice has to offer. In
    offering the students the tools it takes to focus on a singular
    task, even if such a task is as ordinary as breathing, the practice
    lays a foundation for being able to focus on educational con-
    tent and trains themind to deepen andmaintain higher order

    30 Middle School Journal September 2019

    thought (Chiesa & Serretti, 2009). These practices aid in
    prefrontal cortex development as well as metacognitive
    development (Blakemore et al., 2010; Brown & Knowles,
    2014). It teaches focus as well as fosters patience and practice,
    promoting positive relationships, building community, and
    establishing a culture devoted to becoming oneself. Research
    has demonstrated that mindfulness practices improve well-
    being, decrease stress, anxiety and PTSD symptoms in both
    youth and adults (Sibinga et al., 2016).


    The SC will be able to identify and deliver services to
    students, staff members, parents, and the community
    through the delivery component of school counseling.
    They will also work to connect students with outside ser-
    vices that may help based on the students’ personal and
    social needs. Additionally, it allows for SCs to develop
    opportunities for learning throughout the building. It is
    critical for teachers and school staff to have the opportu-
    nity to learn about the impact and symptoms of trauma,
    and about the appropriate enactment of trauma-informed
    practices. SCs are prepared to disseminate this informa-
    tion and coach teachers in how to do this. Schools can
    allow SCs this time while positioning them as experts on
    trauma-informed practices at the building level, poten-
    tially increasing teacher efficacy and buy-in.


    SCs use various school data to assess their school’s trauma-
    informed practices and sensitivity to trauma through the
    accountability component of the ASCA model. This will
    help all stakeholders to better understand where the
    school is in relation to the enactment of trauma-informed
    practices and where they need to go to further their focus
    on trauma. Data-based decisions are essential to develop-
    ing school-wide policies and practices that support trauma-
    informed practices (Chafouleas et al., 2016). In fact, to
    analyze all data available is in essence a trauma-informed
    practice. In reality, schools already collect a variety of data
    and universal indicators that they can use in multiple ways
    to support and enact trauma-informed practices. The key
    is to utilize the best data to build a climate and culture
    that will support the overall health and well-being of
    young adolescents. While data related to academic per-
    formance is essential, three types of data are critical to
    policies and practices that are responsive to trauma (a)
    attendance and course passing data; (b) behavior and

    discipline data; (c) perception of experiences and quali-
    tative data.

    Attendance data and course passing. It is important
    for SCs and other school leaders to monitor attendance
    data on a regular basis to ensure students are in school
    and to be alert to any changes in attendance patterns.
    Changes in attendance can reveal patterns of a child’s
    home life and structures outside of school. Chronic
    absenteeism could be one indicator of trauma in
    a student’s life. Closely related to attendance are changes
    in academic performance. By monitoring course passing
    and academic progress, SCs get yet another view of the
    student in order to ask questions that will lead to better
    understanding their individual needs. These questions
    have the potential to help SCs support school-wide efforts
    to become trauma-informed (NCTSN, 2008).

    Behavior and discipline data. Data related to a student
    behavior provide insights into students’ experiences in
    classrooms but also reveals patterns in school-wide
    discipline procedures and policies that may be
    exacerbating problems and re-traumatizing students.
    Patterns of behavioral infractions often suggest that
    something deeper is going on in a student’s life. Such data
    may also suggest challenges teachers are facing in
    regulating their own emotional responses to misbehavior,
    as well as implicit bias that yields greater punishment of
    students of color (Okonofua & Eberhardt, 2015). By
    monitoring these data, SCs can see these infractions and
    begin to ask the students (along with a potential team of
    stakeholders) questions that dig deeper into their
    histories. While misbehavior is not always an indicator of
    trauma, SCs may find that trauma does have a part to play
    in the choices and behaviors that both students’ and
    teachers exhibit. Further, SCs can use existing tools to
    help identify those behaviors. Research demonstrates how
    traumatic experiences in childhood lead to risk behaviors
    as youth develop, as well as impact their self-regulation
    (Wolpow et al., 2016). Access to data on students’ self-
    report risk behaviors (Center for Disease Control and
    Prevention, 2018) and perception of harm can offer
    critical information to SC’s and other staff about the
    specific risk behaviors to target for prevention. With that
    information, the SC can coordinate efforts from a trauma-
    informed lens to address some root causes of behavior,
    support students in self-regulation, and raise awareness
    towards improvement of discipline policies and
    procedures that may be re-traumatizing students and
    exacerbate disproportionate school exclusion. 31

    Perception of experiences and qualitative data.
    Student perceptions are essential in understanding
    current experiences and needs including social,
    emotional, academic, and basic needs. Additionally,
    qualitative data collected by one-on-one conferences or
    observation of student interactions is essential to helping
    teachers and counselors gain insights into students’ lived
    experiences and the trauma they might be experiencing.
    While more time-intensive, qualitative data provide
    context to quantitative data collected by the school. For
    example, a school counselor from our state implements
    what she calls meeting minutes. Similar to advisory
    practices, this counselor moves throughout the school and
    meets with individual students for one-minute, quick
    conferences. She collects this qualitative data to help her
    better understand the needs of students but also to help
    become informed about individual student needs and
    concerns. Collecting this type of data can also provide
    a school-wide picture of some elements of culture and
    climate such as a sense of belonging, safety, and
    happiness. With a large caseload, one minute per student
    helps this SC learn who needs follow-up and who she
    should absolutely ensure is on her radar.

  • Beyond caring for students
  • Anyone, including school counselors and teachers, who
    are in a caring profession may find that they are experi-
    encing compassion fatigue, burnout, and secondary trau-
    matic stress (Wolpow et al., 2016). Every single day in
    schools, the adults who work with students (teachers,
    counselors, instructional assistants, coaches, etc.) confront
    the unspeakable consequences of the trauma exposure
    and resulting symptoms that often manifest inside schools.
    It is critical for schools to recognize the secondary trauma
    experienced by adults working with students who have
    experienced trauma.

    Secondary traumatic stress

    In secondary traumatic stress, also considered vicarious
    trauma, an individual’s symptoms may be similar to those of
    someonewithPTSD(Figley, 1999). Secondary traumatic stress
    affects one’s capacity to feel empathetic or capable and can
    significantly impact mental, psychological, and physical well-
    being. Hill (2011) found in a qualitative study of urban tea-
    chers that self-care methods such as debriefing with
    colleagues, reading trauma related information, and visiting
    a therapist helped teachers cope with compassion fatigue. It is

    critical that middle schools raise awareness of the specific risk
    factors for secondary traumatic stress and support adult well-
    being and self-care. For SCs, this means practicing routine
    awareness of your ownwell-being and taking specific actions to
    maintain life balance as well as helping teachers understand
    the importance of self-care. It also means utilizing tools
    developed to help identify secondary trauma as well as offer
    suggestions formanaging it. One of themany tools available is
    the Professional Quality of Life Professional Quality of Lifetest
    (proQUOL) (Stamm, 2009) that allows individuals to assess
    where they are on compassion satisfaction, compassion fati-
    gue, and the two sub constructs of compassion fatigue which
    are burnout and secondary traumatic stress. This resource
    along with additional information and aids are available at There aremany other
    resources for schools to use to support their teachers (e.g.
    Olga Phoenix Self-care Wheel, 2013; The Trauma Responsive
    Educational Practice Project, n.d.) as they process their own
    traumatic stress.

    Administrative team actively supporting teacher

    School administrators play a central role in supporting
    teacher wellbeing in the face of trauma. While adminis-
    trators cannot force teachers to engage in self-care on
    their own, research has shown that there are other factors
    that can help mitigate the impact of secondary traumatic
    stress including collegial support and mentoring (Ludick
    & Figley, 2017). Administrators must make secondary
    traumatic stress a priority and take a pulse on the status of
    their staff by assessing the levels of burnout and secondary
    stress. They can also support staff by ensuring there are
    dedicated spaces and times for adults in the building to
    formally and informally debrief and discuss stressful events
    specifically related to student’s trauma exposure as well as
    opportunities for inspirational celebrations of student
    success in the face of adversity. Administrators also can
    provide mentoring opportunities which are particularly
    important for new teachers since inexperience in the field
    is another risk factor for secondary traumatic stress.

  • Conclusion
  • The rates of trauma experienced by our students in
    middle schools, along with the risks associated with sec-
    ondary traumatic stress for adults that work with them

    32 Middle School Journal September 2019

    means that middle schools can no longer afford to be
    without trauma-informed information and practices.

    The rates of trauma experienced by our students in
    middle schools, along with the risks associated with
    secondary traumatic stress for adults that work with
    them means that middle schools can no longer
    afford to be without trauma-informed information
    and practices.

    Furthermore, these practices, delivered across the school
    by adults in different roles, need to be coordinated and
    comprehensive (Chafouleas et al., 2016). SCs are posi-
    tioned perfectly in schools to lead the charge on trauma-
    informed care. They play a key role in ushering imple-
    mentation of a trauma-informed school and ensuring its’
    long-term success. When middle schools pay particular
    attention to the Culture and Community characteristics out-
    lined in This We Believe (2010) and include intentional
    advocacy for positioning SCs to lead within schools,
    trauma-informed practices can provide much needed
    academic and emotional supports for students.

  • Funding
  • This research was supported by the University of
    Louisville’s Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary
    Social Justice Research. The Consortium is directed by the
    Anne Branden Institute for Social Justice Research and the
    Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice, in colla-
    boration with the Brandeis Laboratory for Citizenship, the
    Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, and Health
    Sciences Center Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

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    34 Middle School Journal September 2019

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    • What does it mean to be trauma-informed?
    • Trauma and the young adolescent

    • Atrauma informed middle school
    • The critical role of the school counselor

      Critical foundational beliefs

      Outline placeholder

      Supporting astrengths-based, “healing centered” perspective

      Establishing areceptive climate

      Charge of school counselors





      Attendance data and course passing

      Behavior and discipline data

      Perception of experiences and qualitative data

      Beyond caring for students

      Secondary traumatic stress

      Administrative team actively supporting teacher wellbeing




    • Notes on contributors

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