What were some of the initial effects of the pandemic on schools, and how did the program respond?
The pandemic forced everyone into unfamiliar and uncharted territory. From the start, mental health experts understood that the toll on children’s mental health would be one of the pandemic’s many impacts. The REACH pilot program took place in the midst of the pandemic, and those 55 schools tried something new during an already difficult time. They came away with an increase in trauma knowledge, feelings of preparedness, restorative strategies and action plans. Now, three years into the pandemic, rules and regulations have been relaxed, but the long-term effects of living through the crisis are still being felt through learning loss, behavioral challenges and increased anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, participating REACH schools are better-equipped to help address these challenges.
You noted the REACH program’s expansion in early 2022. What did that include?
The expansion to all schools statewide included launching seven regional social-emotional learning hubs offering localized training and support for trauma-informed practices in schools. The hubs provide professional development resources to districts in their region so they can establish and expand social-emotional learning programs in schools. They also assist school-community leadership teams to implement data-driven strategies focused on addressing student trauma and mental health needs.
Can you share any measurable results from the program?
In a survey of 306 school-based REACH team members who had participated for a full semester, respondents reported that the REACH training content had been helpful in preparing and supporting them in completing their self-assessment of their trauma-responsive policies, procedures and practices (73%); understanding trauma-responsive approaches (69%); and developing feasible action plans (90%).
Additional data regarding the impact of schools’ participation in the REACH initiative on students’ academic achievement, discipline and attendance are forthcoming. It will be at least a year until we have impact data related to students, since the data are measured and reported on an annual basis. It’s also important to point out that we know school transformation efforts take time. We need to give schools a full year, at least, to implement REACH before we can expect those changes. In the meantime, anecdotally, when asking administrators what changes they have seen with students, we’ve heard promising messages.