As many as 50% of all children, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, come to school each day having experienced serious traumatic events, including abuse, neglect, witnessing violence, and various forms of household dysfunction. For many students, these experiences and others, such as homelessness and bullying, may cause a trauma reaction that can have significant effects on their ability to learn. Students need a safe and supportive school-wide environment to help them form positive relationships, calm their emotions and behaviors, and focus, so that they can learn and be successful at school.

Current laws often put barriers in the way of creating this kind of positive school culture. Laws are often focused on addressing particular issues, such as bullying and truancy, without recognizing the need for whole-school environments that can support all of these initiatives. Nor do laws consider the time for collaboration and support that educators need to create this kind of learning environment. This article demonstrates how Massachusetts created an integrative framework organized by school operations to streamline how these issues are addressed and then integrated into law. It describes the tools that help schools implement a range of required initiatives while supporting educators in the process of creating and sustaining safe and supportive environments. The decade-long process demonstrates how educational practice and legal advocacy can work hand in hand to create better learning environments for all children.

Author Biography

Susan Cole, J.D. MsEd., is a lecturer on law at Harvard Law School and the director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Law School and the non profit Massachusetts Advocates for Children. She is the lead author of Helping Traumatized Chldren Learn, Volumes one and two.