By AMY REX
MTSD superintendent

As members of a community, we naturally come together in response to critical incidents especially those that have an immediate impact on life, limb or livelihood. When misfortune is visible, people rally. Likewise, as intelligent beings, we are learning from the tragedies of our time. We are taking preventative measures that are tangible, technical in nature – key badges, smoke detectors, security cameras, specialized training and the like. This new order required a shift in our mindset.

Unfortunately, we are less likely to rally around conditions that we don’t observe or understand; even when they exist in our own community. It may be homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration, mental illness, domestic violence, resource insecurity or access to health care. These conditions of chronic stress and trauma often impede members of the community from leading productive lives. For children, these conditions adversely impact their readiness or availability to learn. These children are members of our community, attending our school and due to the changing social fabric, they are increasing in number. 

If we believe that every child deserves to be well educated, to be prepared for success in college, career, and a democratic society – to live happy and fulfilled lives, and productively contribute to safe, vibrant communities then collectively, a new mindset for safe and healthy schools that support the needs of all learners must happen.

Mindset Shift – System’s Shift
The statistics are staggering. The CDC et al. report that 90 percent of children will experience some form of trauma, 1 in 5 children live in poverty, 10 percent are impacted by chronic toxic stress, and anxiety and depression affect 1 in 7 children between the ages of 6 and 17. Additionally, the infiltration of technology continues to alter our behavior and impacts development in ways we have yet to fully understand. To that end, no longer can we settle for schools designed to teach reading, writing and math. No longer can we settle for schools that solely support the social development of neurotypical, middle income children who attend school ready to learn.  No longer can we believe that the children who have problematic behaviors just need to be punished and/or removed from class. Experience – discipline data, proficiency data, and longitudinal data associated with the ills of our society clearly demonstrates that this approach does not serve our children or our long term goal for safe and vibrant communities.

The new mindset must take into consideration and be responsive to the root causes of why some children are not ready to learn. It must support the development of systems with a range of interventions that can alter the typical downward spiral of our most vulnerable youth. Just as the shift in mindset for equipping our schools with the hardware necessary to be safe so must we shift our mindset for designing and funding systems of education that truly support the needs of all learners.