By Curran Mahowald, Partnerships Manager
Preventing and mitigating the effects of trauma was already a focus back in 2019 when Principal Domenic Russo first presented his vision for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) and social and emotional learning. That was the year when Lee Antonello Elementary School established a trauma informed partnership with ProjectHEAL.
Like any good planner, Russo thought carefully about his rollout strategy. Each year they would focus on applying the trauma informed approach to a different group of stakeholders. The process would begin with staff in the first year, creating education and the essential buy-in for any successful program. Year two would move to students. Finally, in year three parent engagement would complete the rollout.
The team would also create an in-person trauma informed learning series for parents and caregivers. And they would connect parents and caregivers with mental health professionals and other culturally relevant resources in the community.
Changing Environment, Changing Plans
But when the pandemic forced school closures in the spring of 2020, they had to pivot away from in-person programming. Before they had time to develop a new plan of action, they heard about Ready4K. They decided it was time to learn more.
Ready4K’s emphasis on the social and emotional needs of children and families caught Russo’s attention. He knew he needed his team’s input. So he shared the information with Madeleine Chavez and Youlanda Johnson, Safe School Professional and Mental Health Professional.
“[Ready4K] offered a stream of practical and educational tools, mindsets, and skill sets that parents could use in real time while we re-grouped and recentered ourselves and created a plan of action,” Russo says. Importantly, Russo also realized that Ready4K directly aligned to the vision and goals of the grant that the school had received through The Rogers Foundation.
With the Ready4K Trauma-Informed program, Lee Antonello Elementary parents and caregivers would receive facts and tips to support their child’s learning and development on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. These messages, which help families build strength to navigate difficult situations through the Protective Factors Framework from Strengthening Families, would provide an immediate support structure. Parents would also receive a separate stream of messages with direct links to local resources. The resources range from basic needs and job assistance to addiction treatment, recovery and prevention programs.
“The idea that it’s a way to connect with families in such an easy format, through texting, with ideas that are easily usable… It almost seemed like a no-brainer—like why wouldn’t you?” says Principal Russo, who decided to partner with Ready4K early in the fall of 2020.
Now, five months after launching the programs, Russo’s Ready4K dashboard shows that tens of thousands of messages have been sent to families. But the number that stands out to him is 570—the number of families who have stayed in the program. “The fact that so many families have continued with Ready4K speaks volumes.” Trauma-informed programming partner Johnny Reed of ProjectHEAL agrees. He says the high retention of the program signals that parents were eager for a resource like Ready4K.
Besides parents’ satisfaction with the facts and tips they’re getting, another factor in the high participation rate is likely the communication effort that the Lee Antonello ES team put forth in raising awareness of the program to families. The school didn’t require families to take any action to get enrolled in Ready4K. However, Principal Russo and his team wanted to give families a heads up about Ready4K before they received their first message. So he used the materials in his Ready4K dashboard to share the program with parent leaders and the PTA.
The Ready4K Trauma-Informed curriculum is available in English and Spanish. The Lee Antonello team took advantage of this in deploying the program to their families. “Second language families are often out of the loop,” Russo says. “But now they’re getting a helpful parenting tip on their phone, in their language.”
Low Lift for Administrators
School administrators like Russo don’t want to add one more thing to their plates or the plates of teachers and staff. But he didn’t hesitate with Ready4K because it requires little to no maintenance from his team in order to continually benefit parents and students.
“[Ready4K] is well set up for you to be able to just let it run in the background, if that’s what you want. Or if you need or want to engage with it more, you can do that too,” Russo says. “It’s a very easy-to-use platform.”
Peace of Mind for Family Workers
Safe Schools Professionals like Chavez and Johnson are always eager to ensure that students are supported psychologically. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made that more difficult.
“They could be lacking SEL at home compared to what they usually get in the classroom,” Chavez says.
“We can teach a social emotional curriculum on campus, but families aren’t always involved,” agrees Russo. “They need tools in their toolbox.”
They also know that even when students are able to come to the school building, they still need support at home. Chavez says she used to worry the most about the students who weren’t exhibiting obvious behavioral problems in the classroom. They could be suffering silently through their trauma and not receiving the support they need. With Ready4K, support goes to every family automatically, in a way that’s quickly accessible to them.
And the Lee Antonello ES team does not need to guess whether families are actually engaging with these supports —they can look at the survey results in their dashboard.
“Looking at that data and seeing that the majority of the families are answering YES, we’re implementing at least one of these practices a week or YES this is helping me or YES my relationship with my child has gotten better—that’s almost like a safety net for us,” says Chavez. “No matter what, we’re still reaching out to families [through the Ready4K texts] and families still know we care. That makes me feel better and be less stressed, and therefore I can do my job better without having to be panicking about the kids that we’re not immediately contacting.”
Russo says the COVID-19 pandemic was “prime time” to start using a tool like Ready4K for virtual family engagement. But even when the pandemic subsides, the Lee Antonello ES administration plans to continue many of the digital family engagement practices it adopted in response to the crisis.
Russo anticipates using Ready4K’s custom messaging feature to send parents links to virtual meetings. These may be easier to attend for some parents than in-person meetings hosted at the school.
“I want to keep the [Ready4K] tool going. This mode of communication doesn’t have to go away,” Russo said. “Having parents know what’s going on, having them feel like they’re involved without having to come down to the school and be physically in-person, they’re still having that involvement. If parents are engaged, students are more engaged and everybody’s happy.”
Bonus: Ready4K as a Springboard to Other Programming
The Trauma Informed Ready4K curriculum that families receive in their cell phones has inspired the Lee Antonello and ProjectHEAL team in their creation of live learning sessions for parents.
“Families can now see what the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday tips look like in a practical trauma-informed learning experience in a live session with myself, a member of my team, Ms. Madeleine, and Ms. Youlanda,” says Johnny Reed of ProjectHEAL. He’s also working on involving community health and social services professionals of color to answer Q&A for parents who are bilingual or have a different cultural background.
He sees this as a natural extension of the CONNECT messages that parents receive on Tuesdays and Thursdays in their Ready4K Community Support Stream.
“We should never go back to the way education was and should only move forward, embracing what we’ve learned that worked well during this time of distance learning,” says Russo. “I do believe that Ready4K is an excellent tool and resource to help us do exactly that.”