By Danette Parsley, Senior Advisor to REL Northwest and Chief Executive Officer at Marzano Research. This post first appeared on the REL Northwest blog and is posted here with permission.

The pandemic amplified many educational issues and inequities, none more so than student mental health and well-being.

An April 2022 survey of public schools by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) revealed that three-quarters of schools reported increases in the number of students seeking mental health services and in staff reporting that students were exhibiting symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma, since the start of the pandemic.

Student mental health and well-being is far from a new concern. REL Northwest partners, as well as educators across the nation, have identified the issue of students experiencing trauma at home and its impact on learning as a pressing and growing need to address.

In Alaska, a 2015 statewide survey by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services found that nearly two-thirds of students have experienced traumatic events, leading to an increased risk of poor educational, social, health, and economic outcomes. In response, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (AK DEED), in collaboration with state and local partners, released the evidence-based Transforming Schools: A Framework for Trauma-Engaged Practice in Alaska and accompanying Toolkit to support schools and districts as they implemented recommended strategies. The initiative aims to help Alaska schools and communities integrate trauma-engaged practices and policies into their everyday activities to improve academic outcomes and well-being for all students.

In 2022, REL Northwest launched the Alaska Trauma-Engaged Schools Partnership with AK DEED as well as representatives from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Alaska Mental Health Trust, Association of Alaska School Boards and the University of Alaska Anchorage. The partnership will conduct research to understand how schools and districts are implementing recommendations from the Transforming Schools Framework and to identify additional supports that would improve the uptake of trauma-engaged best practices.

The Alaska Trauma-Engaged Schools Partnership seeks to improve long-term student behavioral outcomes, including feelings of safety, increased attendance, and decreased nonviolent suspensions. We expect the Partnership will 1) inform implementation and speed adoption of trauma-engaged evidence-based practices, and 2) provide actionable insights for researchers, practitioners, policymakers, parents, students, and other community members.

As next steps, the Partnership will collect implementation data using a statewide survey (to be administered in fall 2022) and engage in applied research to establish indicators of the impact of the Transforming Schools Framework that can be used to measure progress toward widespread adoption. In future years, the Partnership will continue to use data to support schools and districts as they implement trauma-engaged approaches in various local contexts.

Learn more about our Alaska Trauma-Engaged Schools Partnership by viewing our logic model, which covers activities, outputs, and outcomes for the next several years. REL Northwest is excited to help Alaska with this growing need to reduce the harmful effects of trauma and to increase the health and safety of children so they can better develop and learn.

Additional Trauma-Engaged Resources

  • In this REL Mid-Atlantic blog, a high school principal in New Jersey shares strategies to address staff and student mental health and cultivate productive learning environments.
    REL Appalachia staff conducted three webinars to share research, resources, and strategies that support students and educators in the context of trauma.
  • The National Center of Safe Supportive Learning Environments’ Trauma-Sensitive Schools Training Package provides a framework and roadmap for adopting school- and district wide trauma-sensitive approaches.
  • REL Appalachia shares the key principles of a trauma-informed classroom strategies and policies to support students experiencing trauma.
  • REL Mid-Atlantic provides research resources on the connections between student and teacher trauma, and student learning.

About the Author

Danette Parsley is a Senior Advisor to REL Northwest and Chief Executive Officer at Marzano Research.