The experience of childhood trauma — including abuse, neglect, family dysfunction or violence — can profoundly affect students’ ability to learn. Lesley’s Institute for Trauma Sensitivity (LIfTS) was created to help educators better understand the relationship between trauma and learning, while giving them practical steps to create safe and supportive classrooms for children experiencing trauma. A new grant from the Oak Foundation of $731,595 will help support important program enhancements over the next four years, making this essential training available to a wider range of educators in the U.S. and abroad.
"The funds that we have recently received from the Oak Foundation will enable LIfTS to expand its work of deepening educators' understanding of complex trauma, how it manifests in school-age children and how trauma-sensitive schools can help provide children with better access to education,” said program director Dr. Sal Terrasi.
According to studies, in a typical classroom of 25, at least four students have experienced complex trauma. These children often have trouble concentrating, regulating their behavior, building relationships and developing other skills that lead to success in the classroom. Children may have disruptive outbursts at school or they may be withdrawn or unfocused.
“These children can be perceived by educators as not paying attention,” Terrasi explained. “They are paying attention, but to something else. These children are expecting harm from the world.”
Educators who don’t understand the symptoms and effects of trauma often dismiss students as badly behaved or misdiagnose them as special needs, creating even more obstacles for students who are already struggling.
But educating teachers and administrators to recognize the effects of trauma on their students can have a major impact on their teaching. The center’s pioneering work in training educators to understand the impact of childhood trauma has put Lesley at the forefront of an important and growing field of study.
“I’m not aware of any other colleges or universities that are doing what LIfTS and our partner, the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, are doing in this field," said Joel Ristuccia, lead instructor/mentor for LIfTS.
Over 1,500 educators, administrators and other school professionals have participated in trauma-focused course-work since the institute was founded in 2010, and courses have been held in more than 30 Massachusetts districts as well as other parts of the U.S. The effects can be felt in participants’ classrooms.