Hofmeister announces summit to focus on students experiencing trauma; Buck, Prater, White among slated speakers


OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2018) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister today announced that the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) will address one of the nation’s most prevalent public health problems at an upcoming summit.

It Starts Here: Trauma-Informed Instruction will be held at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Oct. 2, and feature experts in childhood trauma and healing. In partnership with state agencies, tribal nations and nonprofits that serve children and families, the OSDE’s in-depth event will target educators who are often the first to encounter trauma in individual children.

“A recent National Survey of Children’s Health revealed that Oklahoma’s youngest, most vulnerable children suffer more trauma than those in any other state in the nation, and additional trauma rankings among our children of all ages are alarmingly high," Hofmeister said.

“We must come together to understand the complex issues surrounding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in order to serve the hundreds of thousands of affected children in our classrooms and provide a path forward that is infused with resilience and hope. When we think of the importance of giving all Oklahoma children access to a high-quality education, there may be no more critical work than to ensure a foundation of safety and caring. We cannot allow these frightening statistics to remain unchecked."

The summit’s key speakers will include Casey Gwinn, president of Alliance for HOPE International. A former city attorney for San Diego, Gwinn is a national leader in family justice initiatives whose most recent book, co-authored with University of Oklahoma professor Chan Hellman, explores pathways to hope among those who have experienced adversity.

Gwinn’s collaborators have included Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in the development of a family justice center in Oklahoma City. Prater is among those who will speak at the summit.

“Many times, teachers are the first line of defense for the precious children they engage daily in their classrooms,” said Prater, a former police officer who next year begins his fourth term as DA. “Educators are uniquely positioned to observe even the most subtle changes in behavior and appearance that can be manifestations of adverse experiences in that child’s home environment. If teachers know what to look for and how to respond in a trauma-informed manner, they may actually be able to help save that child’s life – literally save the child’s life.”

In addition to the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office, the OSDE is partnering for the summit with the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS).

Terri White, commissioner of the state's mental health and substance abuse services agency, will also speak at the summit.

“Trauma is a significant issue and one that is often overlooked as it relates to students struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. We provide trauma screening as individuals enter our system and have found that 99 percent of the people in our mental health system screen positive for trauma, as do well over half of those receiving substance abuse treatment,” said White.

“Living in a chronically stressful, traumatic environment can create long-term changes in the brain, some of which are associated with learning difficulties, depression and other mental illnesses. The negative consequences of trauma are predictable when we don’t target resources to appropriately intervene.”

OJA Executive Director Steven Buck said his agency has seen a rise in children experiencing trauma.

"An increasing number of people entering the juvenile justice system have experienced traumatic events in their childhood," said Buck, who will also participate in the summit. "Trauma-informed care and early interventions along with demonstrated prevention strategies will help decrease the number of our children penetrating into the justice system. Renewed and heightened emphasis by educators and other community partners on the importance in addressing these young people’s needs will have profound positive impacts through improved academic performance, employability, overall health and public safety."

In addition, the summit will feature Steve Graner of the ChildTrauma Academy. The retired North Dakota public schoolteacher conducts workshops with educators on trauma-informed practices.

Research indicates that the impact of childhood trauma can be mitigated through trauma-informed educational instruction practices that focus on relationship-building, resilience, hope and positive interactions. Addressing students experiencing trauma is part of Oklahoma Edge, the OSDE’s 8-year strategic plan for strengthening public education in the state.

In Oklahoma, nearly half of school-aged children have an ACE score of 3 or higher, which is strongly associated with negative long-term health outcomes including disproportionate rates of divorce, depression and violence.

"Hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma children are academically at risk and on a path to shorter, more difficult lives as a result of childhood trauma," said Hofmeister. “Seeing our teachers stand up for kids is not news, but at the It Starts Here summit, we will equip them with the tools specific to childhood trauma that will enable them to be even fiercer champions of their students.”

 Editor's note: A high-resolution photo of Casey Gwinn is available upon request.

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Last updated on May 10, 2018