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Virtual summit on Feb. 15 to address trauma in Oklahoma schools

The Shawnee News-Star

More than 2,000 educators across Oklahoma are expected to attend a virtual summit later this month to learn more about teaching students who have experienced trauma. “Awareness to Action: Creating Trauma-Informed Schools through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support,” set for Feb. 15, will be the fourth statewide summit hosted by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) for teachers, counselors and other school leaders.  

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said this free training is vital for educators, as Oklahoma ranks third in the country for children who experience the highest levels of trauma.  

“We see the effects of adverse childhood experiences in the classroom every day, many times manifesting in outbursts, aggression, inattention or withdrawal. What used to be labeled as a lack of discipline may well be a heartbreaking story of a child struggling with emotional or physical distress,” Hofmeister said. “Our goal is to equip teachers with evidence-based strategies for reaching all students.”

The one-day virtual conference goes beyond previous OSDE summits in its focus on using Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS). MTSS is an equitable, targeted framework designed to address students’ academic, behavioral and mental health needs.  

In the morning session, keynote speaker Heather Forbes will address learning the language of trauma, including strategies for communicating with students, de-escalation and classroom management. In the afternoon sessions, educators will learn how to use MTSS to identify students in need and improve overall school culture and climate through higher academic achievement and lower office referrals and suspension rates.  

Hofmeister said many educators are hungry for strategies to connect with children who struggle with trauma. Since 2017, approximately 20,000 educators have attended trauma-informed training provided by OSDE.   

In its effort to deliver more mental health resources directly to students, OSDE has earned more than $21.5 million in federal grants to offer specialized training and personnel to schools. Its largest program, Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education), provides prevention, intervention and treatment services for areas of the state where mental health resources are scarce.   

To provide more services for all Oklahoma students, Hofmeister has included $18.2 million in the OSDE budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 for a School Counselor Corps. The program would fund more counselor positions to close the student-counselor gap in schools. Oklahoma’s current student-to-counselor ratio is 412 to 1, significantly lower than the American School Counselor Association’s recommended ratio of 250 to 1.  

To register for “Awareness to Action: Creating Trauma-Informed Schools through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support,” go to action-mtss.eventbrite.com. The conference is free, but registration is required.