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Tag: Susan Cole

Legislative Advocacy for Safe and Supportive Schools

By: Alexis Farmer

From left to right: Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19, Clinical Professor Michael Gregory, Pantea Fead JD’ 20, and Yurui Chen JD ‘20.

“Investing in a good education is something anyone can get behind,” said Breanna Williams, a 2L at Harvard Law School as she prepared her pitch to the next legislator. She was one of seven students in the Education Law and Policy Clinic/Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative who spent half of her spring semester under the gold dome of the Massachusetts Statehouse, advocating with legislators to support funding for implementation of Massachusetts’ Safe and Supportive Schools Framework statute. At the end of April, the weekly office visits and calls wind down, and only half of the group remained. Huddled in the café, Breanna, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ’19, Pantea Faed JD ’20, and Yurui Chen JD ’20, along with Clinical Professor Michael Gregory recaped on the progress they’ve made and focus on next steps. (Other students participating in the clinic this past spring were Sarah Lu JD ’19, Sarah Mooney M.Ed. ’19, and Robyn Parkinson JD ’20.)

There is increasing acknowledgement that a significant number of children and youth in the United States undergo adversity at a young age. These experiences can have serious health and social consequences, some that can impede children from being successful in school. One study reported that two-thirds of children recounted experiencing at least one traumatic event before the age of 16. Homelessness, community violence, physical and sexual abuse, and refugee experiences are all stressful events that challenge academic, emotional and social well-being. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework helps participating schools address these needs, through adopting trauma-sensitive practices to help all students learn and thrive in school.

In 2014, then Governor and HLS alumnus Deval Patrick signed the omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence, which included the Safe and Supportive Schools law thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Robert A. De Leo. The law aims to enable schools to develop safe, inclusive, and healthy learning environments by supporting school districts to implement the Safe and Supportive Schools Framework. The law provides for trainings, technical assistance, a grant program for schools that serve as models, and on-going recommendations from a commission of experts. The clinic, which is part of a partnership between HLS and the nonprofit Massachusetts Advocates for Children, played a leading role in advocating for the law. Every year since, the clinic has advocated at the legislature to ensure that implementation of the law continues to be funded in the state budget.

Students spent the first half of the spring semester conducting thorough research on state senators and representatives before approaching them, identifying who their staff members were and the policy issues each legislator cared about. The students scouted the statehouse for each member’s office. They positioned themselves at their door with a packet of information about the bill and an elevator pitch, knowing that they had limited time to make an impression. Meetings with a legislator or their staff can be hard to secure, so most are receptive to an impromptu visit. “Most legislators are used to people showing up and being available to their constituents,” Faed remarked. Faed was able to schedule a meeting to sit down with a legislator after showing up at his door and giving her spiel. The group hasn’t encountered any partisan friction on the issue, but they do know that legislators are more likely to support the Safe and Supportive Schools line item if schools in their legislative district receive funding from the grant program. In FY19, there were 93 schools in 38 school districts that benefitted from the funding.

Students learned quickly that they had to be able to connect with legislators and their aides on the substance of the issue. They had to explain in common terms why safe and supportive school cultures are so important. Fortunately, they had spent several weeks in the beginning of the semester conducting focus groups with urban middle and high school students across Massachusetts, asking them about their educational experiences and what their schools could be doing to better support them.

“Hearing the voices of high school students first hand makes all the difference,” said Susan Cole, Director of the clinic and co-teacher with Gregory. Almost uniformly the high school students said that the most important aspects of their education were having strong, caring relationships with their teachers and feeling respected and understood by their teachers and administrators. This is at the core of what the Safe and Supportive Schools law is designed to support. “It is so much more compelling to explain the stakes of this law to legislators when you have the students’ stories fresh in your mind,” said Cole. In addition to informing their advocacy at the state house, the focus groups were also the basis of a formal report that the clinic submitted to the statewide Safe and Supportive Schools Commission in March.

From left to right: Pantea Fead JD’ 20, Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Yurui Chen JD ’20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19.

In its budget recommendation, released in early April, the Massachusetts House proposed $400,000 in funding for the line item, no small success. But Rep. Ruth Balser, lead sponsor of the law and line item in the House, proposed an amendment seeking to raise the amount to $500,000 for FY 2020. That was also the amount Governor Charlie Baker recommended in his 2020 budget. In just one month, students were able to gather 78 representatives to co-sponsor the amendment.

The students’ work has the tangible achievements of securing funding for the legislation and building lasting relationships. 34 new legislators were elected this past November, giving students the opportunity to foster new partnerships and gain support that could have dividends later. “New legislators can become our greatest advocates down the line,” said Gregory. Some seasoned legislators have repeatedly backed the line item, such as Senator Sal DiDomenico, who is Assistant Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the law and line item in the Senate, and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones. Both are advocates of improving educational opportunities for children in Massachusetts.

When asked about what makes legislators sign on their support, Lewis said, “They buy into the theory of change. They like the idea that schools are doing things to improve their culture, and [this bill] gives them the autonomy and the tools to do it themselves.”

By the end of the semester, the students had contacted all 160 offices in the House of Representatives and all 40 offices in the Senate. Their dogged effort to gain buy-in at the statehouse helps ensure this initiative continues and provides a model for fostering a healthy school atmosphere.

“You can’t mandate school culture,” Gregory said, “but you can set the conditions to improve it. Schools can customize the work to meet the needs of their own communities. It’s an approach that appeals to a lot of people.”

While the House of Representatives did not adopt Rep. Balser’s amendment this year, the students’ advocacy paid off in the long run. Upping the amount proposed by the House, the Senate included just over $508,000 in funding for Safe and Supportive Schools in its budget – an increase from last year. A conference committee made up of members from both houses met throughout June and most of July to reconcile all of the discrepancies between their respective budgets. The committee adopted the higher amount recommended by the Senate, and Gov. Baker signed it into law at the end of July.

The Education Law Clinic: Advocating for the children who ‘fell through the cracks’

Credit: Jessica Scranton As part of the Education Law Clinic, David Li ’15 (second from left) and Spencer Churchill ’15 (right) lobbied successfully on Beacon Hill last spring for a Safe and Supportive Schools act. Also pictured: Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Ruth Balser, the act’s lead sponsors.

Credit: Jessica Scranton
As part of the Education Law Clinic, David Li ’15 (second from left) and Spencer Churchill ’15 (right) lobbied successfully on Beacon Hill last spring for a Safe and Supportive Schools act. Also pictured: Sen. Sal DiDomenico and Rep. Ruth Balser, the act’s lead sponsors.

Via the Harvard Law Bulletin

An HLS team is improving the education of children who have experienced trauma

For Spencer Churchill ’15, one of the most enduring lessons of law school so far has come not from a reading assignment or a research project.

He learned it from a child.

On the outside, the 12-year-old girl, who went to an urban school near Boston, seemed well behaved and in control, but she was failing her classes. When Churchill started representing her to try to secure her special services as part of his work at the Education Law Clinic at Harvard Law School, he gradually discovered she was dealing on the inside with so many problems in her life, it was “almost more than you would believe could happen to one kid that age.”

Credit: Jessica Scranton | HLS TRAUMA TEAM: Susan Cole (second from left) and Michael Gregory (third from left) with other Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative members Anne Eisner and Joel Ristuccia in front of the Massachusetts State House

Taken from her single parent because of neglect, intermittently homeless and severely bullied at school, the girl put so much energy into trying to hide what was happening to her that “she had little bandwidth left to focus on her work,” says Churchill. “And she fell through the cracks. Everybody felt she must not be smart because she wasn’t doing well. She wasn’t acting up, so she wasn’t getting help.”

While the behavior of some students who have experienced traumatic events gets them suspended or expelled, other students, like the girl who Churc­h­ill represented, fly under the radar.

Continue reading the full story here.

Governor Patrick signs Safe and Supportive Schools into law

L-R: Courtney Chelo, Children’s Mental Health Campaign; Michael Gregory, TLPI; Paula Vibbard, Parent advocate from Lynn, MA; Sheldon Vibbard, Student advocate from Lynn, MA; Anne Eisner, TLPI; Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Everett; Angela Cristiani; Boston Teachers Union; Dr. Melissa Pearrow, UMASS Boston; Susan Cole, TLPI; Andria Amador, Boston Public Schools; Steve Grossman, State Treasurer

L-R: Courtney Chelo, Children’s Mental Health Campaign; Michael Gregory, TLPI; Paula Vibbard, Parent advocate from Lynn, MA; Sheldon Vibbard, Student advocate from Lynn, MA; Anne Eisner, TLPI; Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Everett; Angela Cristiani; Boston Teachers Union; Dr. Melissa Pearrow, UMASS Boston; Susan Cole, TLPI; Andria Amador, Boston Public Schools; Steve Grossman, State Treasurer

Via HLS News

For the past year, Harvard Law students in the Education Law Clinic have traveled back and forth to the Massachusetts State House to lobby state legislators to pass an Act Relative to Safe and Supportive Schools.

On August 13, all that work paid off, when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed the Safe and Supportive Schools provisions into law. In recognition of the link between safe and supportive school environments and the reduction of school violence, the legislature incorporated these provisions into its omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.

“Gun violence can be prevented if schools address the needs of all students appropriately and at an early age,” said Susan Cole, director of the Education Law Clinic. “Including the Safe and Supportive provisions in the gun violence law will position Massachusetts to become a national leader in creating innovative and effective approaches to reducing gun violence while simultaneously improving academic success. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework is the missing piece that schools have been needing.”

“We are so proud of the work our students did this past spring,” said Michael Gregory, assistant clinical professor of law. “By the time the bill was signed we had 96 confirmed legislative supporters of Safe and Supportive Schools; that’s almost half the members. Our students played a huge role in generating this level of support.” The clinic students who advocated for Safe and Supportive Schools this spring were Spencer Churchill ’15, Christina Gilligan ’14, Priyanka Gupta ’15, David Li ’15 and Harrison Polans ’15. “We are only sorry that the timing of the legislative session means they weren’t here to enjoy the signing with us,” said Gregory.

Read the full story here.

“Trauma-Sensitive” Schools

Danielle Winn, a teacher in Brockton, Mass., displays a pass students take when they need a break from class.

Danielle Winn, a teacher in Brockton, Mass., displays a pass students take when they need a break from class.

Via the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Harvard Education Letter

The most artfully devised curriculum means little to a student whose mind is fixed on last night’s shooting outside or the scary, violent fight between parents that broke out in the kitchen. Brilliant teaching often can’t compete with the sudden loss of a parent or friend. Yet incidents like these reverberate in schools and pose deep challenges to educators.

More than 15 years of research reveals that the prevalence and effect of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) are pervasive in the United States—more than 68 percent of children have experienced a possible traumatic event by age 16—and pernicious, with higher ACE scores correlating to health, education, and social problems. Federal data show that 686,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found one in four children had witnessed violence, and one in 10 had seen one family member assault another. …

Children who experience trauma struggle with interpersonal relationships, face cognitive deficits (including memory and language development), and overreact to everyday stress. In school, because traumatized students view the world as dangerous and misread social cues, minor events may trigger defiant, disruptive, or aggressive behavior. Alternately, they may withdraw and seem not to care. “Their ability to cope is overwhelmed,” says Eric Rossen, director of Professional Development and Standards for the National Association of School Psychologists, explaining that such behavior is often a magnet for disciplinary action.

Continue reading the full story and learn more about the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative.

Bill would light way for safe, supportive schools

Via: The Boston Globe
By: Susan Cole &
Harrison Polans, J.D. ’15

Kudos to Boston Public Schools for developing its innovative Saturdays for Success anti-bullying program (“Bullying affects mental health for years,” g, Feb. 24). What’s particularly impressive about Boston’s program is the approach the city took toward creating it: Officials identified a pressing issue in the district and incorporated anti-bullying skill-building into an already successful program.

All children need safe, supportive school environments to learn and achieve their full potential. But schools find it challenging to coordinate and implement an array of important initiatives, including not only anti-bullying programs but dropout, truancy, and violence prevention; positive discipline; and support for social and emotional development.

An Act Relative to Safe and Supportive Schools, currently in the House Committee on Ways and Means, would provide schools with a framework to coordinate multiple initiatives in order to create a safe, supportive school culture. Saturdays for Success represents one success story. This legislation would lead to many exciting success stories across the Commonwealth.

Addressing Trauma’s Impact on Learning Should Be Central to the Way Schools Are Run

Susan Cole, Director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative

Via the Huffington Post, Education Blog

The New York Times empathetically and articulately chronicles the travails of homeless children in its recent series “Invisible Child.” Young Dasani, the centerpiece of the series, is just one of many more children than we ever imagined who are exposed to highly adverse experiences every day. Adverse childhood events can come in many forms, from living without a roof over their heads, enduring abuse, or being the victim of chronic bullying inside or outside of school to living in a home with substance abuse. Unfortunately, when these experiences become overwhelming they can cause a traumatic response that can impact even the most resilient child’s ability to be successful in school and in life.

The good news — as Principal Holmes and the teachers at the Dasani’s beloved Susan B. McKinney School demonstrate — is that schools can help children reach their potentials despite the adversity they may have faced. Until recently, an understanding of how trauma impacts learning, behavior, and relationships at school had only been acknowledged anecdotally. But public health experts, psychologists, and neurobiologists have established an incontrovertible link that can no longer be ignored within education circles. The conclusion has never been clearer: traumatic experiences that happen at any time in a child’s life can create a cascade of social, emotional, and academic problems down the road.

Continue reading the Op-Ed on the Huffington Post Education Blog

Celebrating the Release of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s Second Book

L to R: Michael Gregory (Assistant Clinical Professor), Sonya Ho, Niousha Rahbar, Spencer Churchill, Leanne Gaffney, Kate Bargerhuff, Amanda Savage, Seth Packrone, Susan Cole (Clinical Director)










By: Kate Bargerhuff (2L), Spencer Churchill (2L), Leanne Gaffney (2L), Sonya Ho (3L), Seth Packrone (2L), Niousha Rahbar (2L), and Amanda Savage (2L)

On November 14, 2013 the professors and students from the Education Law Clinic traveled to Brockton, MA to celebrate the release of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (T.L.P.I.) second book, Helping Traumatized Children Learn Volume 2: Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools. T.L.P.I. is a partnership between HLS and Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) that focuses on the need to address trauma in schools and the impact it can have on student learning.  T.L.P.I. uses its policy work, advocacy, and direct legal services to help traumatized children succeed in school.

Attendees at the release celebrated the success of Mary E. Baker Elementary School, a trauma-sensitive school, and the Brockton community, and featured different stakeholders involved in education policy and reform, including HLS Lecturer on Law and Director of T.L.P.I. Susan Cole, Principal Ryan Powers of the Mary E. Baker Elementary School, and Matthew Malone, Massachusetts Secretary of Education.  Both the educators and legislators in attendance highlighted the achievements of T.L.P.I. and Brockton’s efforts aimed at creating trauma-sensitive schools, and emphasized the need for broader support and connectivity among education professionals.

The energy in the room was palpable as Joel Ristuccia and Professor Michael Gregory, two of the book’s co-authors, revealed T.L.P.I.’s new website, which includes a wealth of information on trauma, an online bookstore, and a forum designed to create a nationwide dynamic trauma-sensitive learning community focused on making schools safe and supportive.

Meanwhile, for the student attorneys at the Education Law Clinic, the book launch was a break from advocating for appropriate educational services for individual students in Massachusetts who have had traumatic experiences, and an opportunity to share in the excitement of T.L.P.I.’s success and witness the results of advocating at the systemic level. Anne Eisner, one of the book’s co-authors and the Deputy Director of T.L.P.I., played a large role in orchestrating the entire event. Overall, the evening was an exciting new step in creating awareness for schools’ mandate to create a more supportive environment to meet the whole needs of the child.

Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative in the News

Report Cover: Volume 2 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn

Via the New York Times Opinion Pages by David Bornstein

“What good are the best teachers or schools if the most vulnerable kids feel so unsafe that they are unavailable to learn?”

Six years ago at the Angelo Elementary School, the principal Ryan Powers and the assistant principal Elizabeth Barry connected with the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (T.L.P.I.), a collaboration of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, to learn how they could improve their interactions with students. They encouraged teachers to read T.L.P.I.’s book “Helping Traumatized Children Learn,” which has been downloaded 50,000 times. (The follow-up book, “Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools,” is being released this week.)

“This is about changing the whole school environment,” explained Susan Cole, a former special education teacher who directs the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. “You can have a great trauma-sensitive classroom, but if the child goes into the hall or cafeteria and gets yelled at, he can get retriggered. It’s about creating a common context that keeps kids feeling safe.”

Please read the full article “Schools That Separate the Child From the Trauma” by David Bornstein on the New York Times Opinion Pages.