We’re all looking forward to a post-pandemic world. Getting there will mean repairing the damage done by illness, restrictions, deferred care and distress. A national conversation is happening, especially regarding impacts on children. Recent test results show that students nationwide have lost ground academically since 2019.

It’s not just academics, social and emotional wellbeing has suffered as well.

Dave Gallagher, a mental health professional for Aspire’s Children’s Services department, is seeing firsthand some of the impacts in the Connecticut public schools. “These schools are struggling. The kids are acting out in ways educators have never seen before. Behaviors that used to be isolated events have now become classroom-wide problems.”

Yet many schools have been pressured into a hyper-focus on regaining lost academic ground. Dave points out, “Kids need to get back to baseline before they can learn.”

Many students need to re-learn what’s taught in kindergarten – how to wait, manage the lunch line, or ask to use the bathroom. For others, when behaviors and emotional deregulation manifest unexpectedly, these can be signs of trauma. Schools are seeing trauma diagnoses surfacing. Support in the schools is urgently needed. Dave reports, “Teachers are devastated. One teacher told me, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be back next week’ and he meant it.”

Dave has been taking a deep dive into the research literature to identify appropriate evidence-based interventions. He’s collaborating with Chrissy Martinez and Bethany Perra from Aspire’s School Partnership program to offer schools a child-centered path forward. The team has developed some core recommendations for schools.

Establishing or re-invigorating Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS), combined with an individualized and trauma-informed plan for each student who needs it, is the heart of their approach. PBIS is a tiered school-wide intervention with strong evidence of effectiveness. Prioritizing emotional well-being for all students and providing safety and connection for students who need trauma-informed support will set the stage for effective intervention and a return to learning. So far, there are two districts on board with this approach. Over the next several years, the plan is for Aspire to build out a team that can support multiple schools in this way.

Dave is confident that their work is going to have an impact: “I’m excited to help schools develop systems that help kids reset and get back on track.”

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Building a Child-Centered Path Forward for Connecticut Schools