The New Orleans Health Department assembled a number of community agencies in 2013 as part of the NOLA for Life initiative to provide crisis response and clinical services to schools following student-involved violence and other public-facing traumatic events. The Health Department led these efforts because New Orleans is a portfolio school district comprised of autonomous charter schools without a centralized system to coordinate school crisis response. We quickly realized that our work was necessary, but not sufficient, to promote healing and resilience. If students were leaving services and going back to classrooms where they didn’t feel safe or where they were facing discipline policies that only sought to punish rather than provide opportunities for growth or change—what were we doing?
In the Spring of 2015, we coalesced as the New Orleans Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Collaborative (TIS-LC) under the leadership of Chris Gunther, Manager of Strategic Initiatives in the New Orleans Health Department. The objectives of the TIS-LC were to provide support to schools as they transformed school climate to become trauma-informed and to build schools’ organizational capacity to implement, sustain, and continue to improve the delivery of trauma-informed approaches. The multi-agency collaborative included representatives from the New Orleans Health Department, Children’s Bureau of New Orleans, The Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies, Louisiana Public Health Institute, Mercy Family Center’s Project Fleur-de-lis, NOLA Public Schools and Tulane University. We put a call out to all New Orleans public schools to find partners for the collaborative. We built the collaborative with 5 schools during the 2015-16 school year and received our first funding for the work through the Department of Justice and United Way of Southeast Louisiana. This first cohort of schools participated in school-wide trainings in the summer of 2015. Throughout the 2015-16 school year, the schools worked with TIS-LC faculty to conduct needs assessments and create trauma-informed action plans. These plans were implemented during the 2016-2017 school year.
In 2016, we received funding from the National Institute of Justice to rigorously test whether the strategies we were using were effective in helping schools move forward with trauma-informed practices. That project, Safe Schools NOLA, allowed us to expand the work of the collaborative to 6 additional schools over 4 years (2016-2020). In doing that work, we also realized our next challenge. We built a model that relied on the training of teachers and leaders in the school—but many of those teachers and leaders leave, which threatens the integrity of the work.
The current iteration of our work aims to build capacity not just in the schools, but in the organizations that run them, so they have the tools they need to initiate and sustain the work themselves. With support from the Department of Justice, United Way of Southeast Louisiana, Baptist Community Ministries, and the LoveTruth Foundation, we have developed the Training of Trainers in Trauma-Informed Schools project (ToT project). Since 2019, eight participating schools in Orleans and Jefferson parishes have sent school and administrative staff to become certified in the implementation model we’ve developed to create trauma-informed schools. Those staff then spend a school year implementing the model with our support to become certified in implementation. And then they teach a new cohort of school and network staff how to do this work to complete their certification as a Trainer for Trauma-Informed Schools. And so on and so on, we hope.
Current members of the New Orleans Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Collaborative include:
Courtney Baker, Tulane University
Kristie Bardell, Louisiana Public Health Institute
Avery Brewton, Tulane University & Training of Trainers for Trauma-Informed Schools
Berre Burch, Children’s Bureau of New Orleans
Laura Danna, Project Fleur-de-lis, Mercy Family Center
Torrie Harris, New Orleans Health Department
Kelli Jordan, New Orleans Public Schools
Teddy McGlynn-Wright, Tulane University & Training of Trainers for Trauma-Informed Schools
Stacy Overstreet, Tulane University
Denese Shervington, Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies
Kathleen Whalen, Tulane University & Safe Schools NOLA