Task force works to help NYC students recover from trauma

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NEW YORK — Elected officials, parents and advocates joined together to form a task force to tackle disciplinary and safety issues in schools based on healing rather than punishment.

They’ll focus on issues caused not only by the ongoing COVID pandemic, but also the resulting loss of livelihoods. The task force will also deal with the impacts of hate crimes and violent images of police brutality on young minds.

In the past year many worlds were upended. From a Covid-crisis that cost jobs and livelihoods and lives, to hate crimes and violent viral images of police brutality, it has been tough on all of us. But even tougher on young minds.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams worked on the launch with Councilman Kevin Reilly and the Healing-Centered Schools Working Group.

“If you as an adult have dealt with trauma over this past year and are struggling to figure out the impact it’s going to have on your life, imaging what it’s like for children,” Williams said Wednesday.

The group’s mission is to help schools build healing centered practices that support students’ behavioral health needs and reduce the reliance on punitive and exclusionary discipline, such as suspensions, detention and expulsions, school safety officers and EMS.

“Healing centered schools are schools that help school communities understand trauma and how it impacts learning,” said Tom Shepard, steering member of the working group. “Then it engages in a whole school process to remove practices that traumatize students and instead builds up practices that support students.”

 The Healing Schools Working Group was formed in the Bronx in 2018 to help schools there change their approach to behavioral and disciplinary issues. Among the school districts they studied was one in Schenectady that replaced school resource officers with social workers and invented a suspension diversion program that connected young people with therapy instead.

“They saw a significant decrease in conflicts and altercations between students as well as a decrease in their dropout rate,” according to Katrina Feldman of the Healing Centered Schools Working Group.

The task force will not be rolled out to schools just yet. Instead, there will be a series of listening sessions in all five boroughs to get feedback from students, parents and teachers. Then the group hopes to present their recommendations to the school’s chancellor Meisha Porter who is reportedly already a fan of the concept.

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