Over the course of the 2018-19 school year, seven parents of students at McGee’s Crossroads Elementary School, which straddles farms and suburbs near Raleigh, N.C., died. Students were struggling with the trauma of losing a parent, in several cases violently. Their classmates didn’t always know how to support them, and in some cases taunted them over these experiences. The principal overheard one say, “I’m glad your dad died.”
During the next school year, the school took a new approach to help kids who might be acting out because of stress and trauma in their own lives. Armed with so-called trauma-informed techniques, school staff focused more on building relationships with students and understanding why they misbehaved. No longer did teachers ask, “What is wrong with you?” when kids acted out, but “What happened to you?” to determine what to do next. Suspensions dropped 52%.