Primary Investigator: Dr. Diane Kern, Professor of English Language Arts and Literacy Teacher Education (pictured at left)
In brief: Dr. Kern’s Public Policy Lab team joined the Rhode Island Trauma-Sensitive Education Collaborative (RITSEC) to develop an online mini-curriculum designed to provide pre-service and in-service teachers throughout the state with resources to help them support students experiencing traumatic conditions such as entering the foster system, foster relocation, homelessness, and food insecurity. The team, which includes Jova Trochez (center), Caroline Kennedy (right), and Tyrone Thomas, joined partners such as the URI School of Education, Adoption RI, and House of Hope to improve educators’ understanding of both the traumas themselves as well as trauma-informed teaching strategies. Students are currently producing a podcast to raise wider awareness of these subjects–stay tuned!
SSIREP Fellows Produce Online Guide for Trauma-Informed Teaching
Thanks to a gift from a donor, URI’s Social Science Institute for Research, Education, and Policy (SSIREP) created the Public Policy Lab, where faculty and students partner with local governments and nonprofit organizations to improve community services and better the lives of Rhode Islanders through applied policy projects. Whereas students must often work low wage jobs to complete their education, this endowment creates opportunities for them to conduct paid research fellowships under the mentorship of a faculty supervisor. At the Public Policy Lab, students apply their studies toward the development of graduate-level professional skills while working as part of a team to contribute meaningfully to their community.
At SSIREP’s Public Policy Lab, a project team joined the Rhode Island Trauma-Sensitive Education Collaborative (RITSEC) to develop an online mini-curriculum designed to provide educators throughout the state with resources to help them support students experiencing traumatic conditions such as entering the foster system, foster relocation, homelessness, and food insecurity. The team was led by Dr. Diane Kern (School of Education) with students Jova Trochez, Caroline Kennedy, and Tyrone Thomas. Students are also currently producing a podcast to raise awareness on these subjects.
Under Dr. Kern’s leadership, students gathered and organized resources into a set of five self-guided web modules designed to improve RI educators’ understanding of both the traumas themselves as well as trauma-informed teaching strategies.
“If a child has autism and doesn’t communicate the same way as others, that’s something that has to be factored in. Trauma creates similar obstacles,” says Dr. Kern. “[There are a] lot of people dealing with the issue of unstable housing in this little state… We’re denying access to education in disproportionate ways when we suspend a first grader for trauma-response behavior.”
Jova Trochez has now begun his career as a high school English teacher. Although COVID-19 has kept him out of an in-person classroom, he says the research has already informed his approach to teaching. “It’s shocking to learn how many kids have to deal with issues that you wouldn’t really think about as you’re teaching them. Because a kid’s not going to come up to you during a lesson and say, ‘I live in a car.’”
“So now, if a student tells me they’re having an issue–you can’t have your camera on? That’s fine, even if you’re lying to me and your camera actually works,” Trochez said. “There’s probably a reason. I don’t know what they go through in their lives, I can’t. But I can be understanding and give them the space that they need.”
Caroline Kennedy was able to gain research experience not normally part of the curriculum. “Personally, I didn’t have much experience with research beyond writing papers for class and stuff like that,” she said. “Out of this, I learned methods to broaden my horizons and find resources that I would use in my classroom.” Kennedy is a Secondary Education major in her Junior year.
Trochez took on a more unexpected challenge. “I hadn’t used a web design program before…” he said. “We knew we had to get it out to people in a form that was accessible and easy to read. We wanted to make people interested in clicking through and reading these articles, while also respecting that teachers have super busy schedules.”
RITSEC remains an ongoing, thriving collaboration between the SSIREP, URI’s School of Education, and community organizations including Adoption RI and House of Hope.
Dr. Kern believes that the collaboration will continue long after state educational institutions have determined the best way to get the RITSEC mini-curriculum into the hands of pre-service and service teachers.
“All of these wonderful providers are out there dealing with these issues, making services available within their networks,” said Dr. Kern. “The dream is to provide an effective way for teachers to learn how to tap into all these networks, so they can collaborate with them as partners on the ground level.”