Part of what drove me to law school was a desire to leave the teaching profession. I left undergrad in 2008 and had been working with kids ever since. What I learned very quickly was that many of the youth I worked with had needs that I could never meet. The needs they had were not just educational. Many of the times they had emotional needs that I did not know how to handle. I cared SO much and yet felt so helpless.
For my research this semester, I focused on youth in the foster care system as well as foster-adjacent youth because they ALL deal with some type of trauma. These youth have behavioral issues inside the classroom as a result of trauma from childhood (see my first post for more on how trauma directly impacts a youth’s education). The educational data is shocking. Youth in foster care are severely behind in reading, writing, math, and graduating from high school (for more on this, please see my second post). Most recently, I looked at what I thought were the 6 most common barriers that schools (teachers in particular) face when confronted with a student with trauma (post three).
All of this research has led me to this final stage. How can schools effectively address the educational and emotional needs of youth with trauma? In this paper, I will discuss the various ways that schools can overcome the barriers I mentioned in my third post by examining how and why schools need to become “trauma-informed”, provide extracurricular activities, provide more counselors and reduce class sizes.
My first paper introduced the strong impact that trauma has on kids’ ability to learn in school. I then explored the disheartening educational data surrounding our youth in foster care in my second paper. So, if we know that trauma affects learning, and youth in foster care are exposed to various levels of trauma and are therefore not performing well in traditional public schools, what are the barriers that prevent teachers and other school staff from being able to effectively teach youth with trauma?
A few weeks back, I wrote about how trauma affects learning. I explored the definition of trauma, the way trauma can have a physical impact on our brains, common behaviors in children that experience trauma, and finally the way that trauma impacts a youth’s ability to learn.
The post from a few weeks back served as Stage 1 of my 4-Stage research journey. As you can see below, I will now be focusing on Stage 2.
As I mentioned in my introductory blog post, in my former years as a teacher, I found myself frustrated at times with not knowing how to teach students that came to me with heavy educational and emotional needs. For example, take the following experience that I had as a teacher working with pre-teens:
I was preparing my class of 32 sixth graders for the next 50 minutes of class when Javier* walked in late with his hood on. He went to his desk and sat down quietly. I walked over to talk to him in hopes of catching him up on what he just missed. Within 5 seconds, I realized Javier had no interest in what I was saying. So, I told him I was going to give him a few minutes to wake up and that I’d be back. No more than 10 seconds after walking away, Javier was engaged in a conversation with the 3 other kids in his group. Their conversation had nothing to do with the assignment the rest of the class was working on, so I went over and quietly talked to him while his group members continued working. Javier grew irritated with me because I wasn’t going to allow him to just sit there and do nothing and distract other students from the task. I left Javier alone again thinking maybe he would calm down and get himself on task without me hovering over him. Next thing I know, Javier was cussing out another student. As per school policy, I had to write a discipline referral** for him and send him to the office with work to do (which I knew wasn’t going to get done).
My name is Monica Willey and I am a second year law student at Santa Clara University School of Law. I was born and raised in East San Jose, California. After graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2008, I worked in San Jose’s Alum Rock Union School District in various capacities, including teaching middle school. I’ve worked with many students that had educational and emotional needs that simply could not be met with the resources the school had available. It is this injustice that led me on a journey to law school. This semester I plan to bring you four segments on the way in which foster youth interact with the education system in California.
First, I will look at the ways in which trauma affects learning by looking at various studies and what schools might do as a response to some behaviors that are exhibited as a result of trauma. Second, I will explore foster youth in particular and how removal from the home and many other aspects of the foster care system cause trauma. Third, I will investigate ways in which California’s public school system is and is not equipped to deal with foster care youth and their unique needs. Lastly, I would like to suggest what could be done in order to have more successful foster care youth in terms of their educational achievements.