When Students Bring Trauma to School along with their Backpack


In addition to carrying backpacks and an enthusiasm for learning, students at Rawson elementary school in Hartford often bring unresolved issues related to traumatic experiences or constant stress. These issues often erupt in angry outbursts, difficulty focusing, or defying teachers and other authority figures.

“Many of our students struggle with issues related to their past, their circumstances or their families,” said principal Dr. Tayarisha Stone. “The ACT Academy helps students find the support they need to remove those barriers so they are able to be successful in school.”

The ACT Academy team, pictured with Rawson Principal Tayarisha Stone and Assistant Principal Evelyn Mendoza Overton, works with teachers, school professionals and students to provide them with the tools they need to recognize and address trauma so students can be successful.

The Aspire-Connect-Thrive (ACT) Academy was created at Rawson school by The Village with national funding from the Office of Minority Health. The ACT Academy aims to address trauma effectively on a school-wide level. Its goal is to strengthen students’ social-emotional competence, ensuring that they have strong, healthy relationships with adults in the school, and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“The first step is helping the kids to recognize trauma and how it affects their emotions, and giving them the coping skills to address those feelings and resulting behavior,” said Aldwin Allen, The Village’s senior director of community programs.

“The second step is providing professional development for teachers and staff, in-classroom support, and activities that help students and their families understand trauma and build social-emotional skills. And lastly, addressing trauma symptoms effectively through clinical services for students and their families.”

At its core, ACT is a multi-level trauma intervention, including trauma screening and treatment, mindfulness practices, play therapy, and afterschool and summer programming focused on academic and enrichment activities.

ACT is also a vision for the future.

“This is a five-year research project,” said Donna Ferguson, director of grants and program development at The Village. The data, analyzed by our research partners at UConn, will reveal trends over time and measure the effectiveness of the interventions provided through ACT Academy.

And it’s already working.

“One hundred percent of parents who responded to our school-wide survey felt that their child has a relationship with a caring adult in school,” said Assistant Principal Evelyn Mendoza Overton. “That’s a huge increase from last year and example of the early impact of the ACT program.”


This story appeared in The Village’s 2017 annual report: Where Real Change Happens. Read the full report >