Trauma Sensitive Schools

About Our Work

Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools serves nearly 23,000 students in Wyandotte County each and every day. In addition to those students, we serve their families and are a committed partner and community member with the goal to improve both the educational and life outcomes for our community. For the past three years, they have worked closely with partner organizations on strategies to foster a more resilient community.

Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools and KVC Hospitals have partnered with a shared goal and vision to create a trauma sensitive school district and build students’ resilience throughout the KCK community. The purpose of the initiative is to give every school strategies to prevent and respond to students experiencing toxic stress. Trauma sensitive schools doster educational experiences and a culture where all may learn and thrive while being prepared for a global society. 

Why Wyandotte County? 

Wyandotte County has a great opportunity to address Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, right now within the Kansas City, Kansas Public School District. ACEs are negative childhood experiences and some examples include: physical and emotional abuse, families that experience alcohol, drug or depression and single parent and poverty stricken households. According to the Kansas Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, as of May 2017 nearly 66% of Wyandotte County residents have at least one ACE and over 25% have experienced three or more ACEs. From years of research, we know that as an individual’s ACE score rises, so does their likelihood of negative health outcomes over their lifetime. 

In the 2016 report* Building Resilience Around Trauma and ACEs: Identifying High Risk Communities in Missouri and Kansas, The Hospital Industry Data Institutes (HIDI) analyzed hospital services associated with trauma exposure (e.g. violence, child abuse, neglect, substance use, etc.) to predict ACEs exposure by zip code. The report finds that over fifty percent (50%) of Wyandotte County zip codes are high risk (7 of our 12). The report suggests that being born and growing up in 7 of 12 zip codes in Wyandotte County is related to four or more ACEs. 

What It Means For The Community

Preventing and responding to the impact of trauma, adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress improves cognitive skills, safety and the overall health of students. This results in improved educational environments and prevents barriers to learning such as discipline referrals, classroom fatigue, absenteeism and staff turnover. 



How does this work?

Trauma Sensitive Schools strategies buffer the impact of violence, abuse and other adverse experiences. Targeted strategies promote safe school environments, build social/emotional skills and link students with community services. Trauma sensitive schools enhance student achievement and prosperity. 

What impedes it?

The general public has limited information about trauma. This creates hesitation to engage in trauma sensitive strategies, organize funding and develop the partnerships needed to address trauma and adverse childhood experiences. Although trauma and adverse childhood experiences negatively impact school achievement, addressing the larger social determinants is complex and requires alignment with larger community efforts. 

Building awareness of trauma improves the use of strategies that enhance safety, social/emotional learning, adult self-care strategies, behavioral healthcare and family/community partnerships. These strategies build students’ resilience, promote learning and overall health outcomes. 

What We Hope To Accomplish

The expected outcomes from this project in the short term include measured goals pertaining to the implementation and comprehension of trauma informed practices. We will work to measure each professional’s level of comprehension from pre and post training assessments as well as track the number of times interventions are utilized within each school. Long term outcomes we expect are a reduced number of suspensions, reduction in absences and chronic absences as well as a reduction of the number of times the crisis team is needed to respond.

As a result of the trainings and implementation of a trauma sensitive school model, there will be a noticeable shift when serving students and families. We already view student situations in a trauma informed way, but don’t deliver each service with that lens. For example, we already ask “what happened to this child?” rather than, “what is wrong with this child?” but still need to convert crisis response and prevention with a trauma sensitive approach. This will include evaluations for students who experience crisis that include both pre and post intervention support to try to help prevent crisis or future crisis.

These components will be layered with a strategic communication strategy throughout the community so employees, students and community members understand why the district is going through this extensive process and what they can expect through implementation as well as once full training and implementation have occurred.