William Hite had not even started his first day as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia in August 2012 when he called for changes in climate in the system’s classrooms and corridors.
At a principals' summit that month, Hite said, “We can't arrest our way to higher student achievement. … We can't suspend our way to higher student achievement. We can't arrest or suspend our way to safer schools.
“Sometimes that angry look, that stare, that inappropriate response, is a cry for help more so than anything else.”
Since the spring of 2013, Roy Wade has seen the impact of trauma on urban youth and adults in low-income neighborhoods from three vantage points.
One is from his Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia research office 13 floors above Market Street.
A second is from his pediatrics office in the Cobbs Creek section of West Philadelphia.
And the third is from his travels in the neighborhoods to such places as boys’ and girls’ clubs, YMCAs, community health centers, homeless shelters, primary care sites and behavioral health organizations.
In the wake of the catastrophic Columbine school shooting in 1999, many school district leaders, politicians, and police summed up their response to school violence with two words: zero tolerance.
Infractions that once might have prompted a discussion of motive and intention instead often led to immediate, automatic suspensions, expulsions, and calls to police.
From 2002 to 2011 in Philadelphia, that view held the upper hand; both Paul Vallas and Arlene Ackerman favored a zero-tolerance approach to school discipline.
In 2012, however, dissatisfaction with the results led to a tectonic shift in policy.
Michele Messer, a counselor at John Moffet School, said the course she was taking on trauma training had been “game changing,“ helping her gain a new perspective on her students.
“It helps me see where they are in time and space,” she said.
Marsha Weiford, a counselor at Edward Gideon and Gen. George G. Meade schools said that in addition to being useful in the schools, “It helps me educate the parents.”
Cynthia Moore, a counselor at Thomas G. Morton School, said simply that “It gives you the tools you need to get back in the trenches every day.”