How are schools responding to the growing mental health demands of students? In this episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation, we get an inside look at how one local district is stepping up, especially after community-wide trauma. Jennifer Ginopolis, the Director of Recovery for Township High School District 113, which represents Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools, talks about the deliberate steps they are taking following the July 4th shooting and reminds us about the connection between mental health and academic performance.
Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain Zaretta Hammond
What Happened To You? Bruce Perry
Music credit: Tune 2 go / POND 5
© CATCH 2023
To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
[00:00:00] Dr. Lisa Novak, CATCH Board Member: It's a really hard time to be a kid. Our kids are facing so much right now, both in terms of what they experience personally, what those around them are going through and all with which they are bombarded in the world. On today's episode of Parenting the Mental Health Generation, we will hear about trauma informed education, a different and important way of thinking about how to support our students.
Welcome, I'm Lisa.
[00:00:33] Amy Oberholtzer, CATCH Executive Director: And I'm Amy, and we're the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation. It's difficult to know the right things to say and do to support our kids and sometimes we make mistakes despite our best intentions. Here, we lay it all out together and discuss the topics that concern us on our parenting journey.
[00:00:51] Dr. Lisa: Today, we're speaking with Jennifer Ginopolis, the Director of Recovery for District 113, which represents Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools here on the north shore of Chicago. Jen has been a part of the D113 staff for over 22 years, serving most recently as the Highland Park High School Counseling Department Co-Chair.
[00:01:13] Amy O.: She's here to share with us all about what trauma-informed education means. How she's helping to serve her students and new ways to think about meeting children's emotional needs in the school setting.
[00:01:24] Dr. Lisa: So, put in your earbuds. Take these 30 minutes for you and join our conversation with Jen G.
[00:01:31] Amy O.: Welcome Jen. Thanks for joining us.
[00:01:34] Jen Ginopolis, Director of Recovery, Township High School District 113: Well, thank you both so much. I'm excited to be here.
[00:01:38] Amy O.: I was lucky enough to meet you last Fall, shortly after you were hired to be the Director of Recovery for High School District 113 and this was a new position, they created to support the community following the shooting on July 4th in Highland Park, which is part of your district. So, before we dive into the details about that job and trauma-informed education, would you just tell us a bit about you and your career prior to this position and how you landed there last summer?
[00:02:13] Jen Ginopolis: Absolutely. Like Lisa referenced, I've been in the district for a long time. I always say that I've professionally grown up in District 113. Prior to being here, I'm from Michigan, so I grew up there. Went to Michigan State University, studied elementary education with a minor in Spanish and theater, and then I moved to,
[00:02:32] Amy O.: I'm a Wolverine, so be careful.
[00:02:34] Jen Ginopolis: Oh, okay. Okay. I'm out. How do we end this podcast? No, no, lots of love for anything Michigan. I moved here with my best friend. We just wanted something fun and different and I ended up getting my Master's degree at DePaul University in counseling. And many years ago, applied to Highland Park High School. I actually started out as a bilingual counselor. So many of the families that I worked with spoke Spanish. I absolutely loved being a counselor for I don't know, 19 plus years. And then I became one of co department chairs of counseling and was able to lead along with my co department chair, Lisa Gilbert unbelievable, amazing counseling department at Highland Park High School. Then July 4th tragedy happened and our district moved very quickly to make sure that we were going to support our students, our community, our staff, and obviously this was new to many of us. And so, they were exploring what we were to do, and created this position as Director of Recovery. I interviewed for this position, and ultimately this is the role that I'm serving in for this year. And really, it's to help support systems in the school that ultimately will support our students as it relates to trauma informed practices. We've also kind of shifted to a term healing centered practices to look in terms of healing as opposed to a deficit model.
So that's kind of a new term that I've also learned. I do want to say that I am not a trauma expert. I think it's really important for me to put that out there. I've been learning so much this year. I've been taking so many classes and been fortunate to be doing a lot of professional development as well. But I don't claim to be a trauma expert. I'm definitely a learner right now and hoping to take all of the information I'm learning and create systems in the schools that will help our students.
[00:04:23] Dr. Lisa: The school is very lucky to have you, and I would love to hear more about what this means functionally. What is some healing centered practices that you've been able to implement in the schools and how does this impact the students?
[00:04:37] Jen Ginopolis: When I started this position, it was really important for me to address all students. So, I'm going to say Tier 1. So, we use that term in schools and you might be familiar with it, but just to kind of define it for everybody. Tier one means all students. So, to look at how can we help every single student because we know it's just best practice for every student. So how can we address things at the Tier 1 level and then at the Tier 3 level. And so, I skipped to Tier 3 because that is really individual support for students that need our support that maybe have experienced some extreme trauma, maybe from the 4th of July. But we weren't going to tease that out. We were going to say we were going to help students with any trauma. We also know that almost 1 in 4 students comes to us with having experienced some trauma. So again, when I say this is best practice, this is reactive because of the 4th of July. But truly, these are practices that all schools should be implementing within their systems.
[00:05:36] Amy O.: Can I stop you for just one second? Before you go any further, will you just define or give some examples for our audience of what trauma might be? Because you say it can be any kind of trauma, but let's just identify a couple of
[00:05:51] Jen Ginopolis: Absolutely. Trauma will dysregulate your coping system. That's how you would define trauma. It can range obviously and people can experience things differently. So, you and I could be at the exact same event and your body could experience it differently because of your past, because of your experiences growing up. So, things like divorce could be considered a trauma. But again, not everybody is going to experience it the same way. There are larger traumas like abuse, the 4th of July., so really, they range.
There's little T and big T and that's defined in terms consistency and the event. So, when 4th of July came, there could be two people that were at the parade and they will have experienced this differently. Obviously, it was a tragedy on, epic proportions, what we're seeing coming into the school would be, two students that one student might need more support at that tier level and one student might be okay day-to-day, but we know that we want to address this on a mass level to all students at the Tier 1 level. So, that student that might not have experienced it the same way, will still be receiving supports and they might not even know it through SEL, social emotional learning, at that base level for all students. Whereas, a student that we're seeing have more trauma, we're going to address in different ways.
[00:07:06] Dr. Lisa: Especially given that trauma can be and is defined in so many different ways. Get back to this idea of, so how do we put things into place then at different levels to support those students?
[00:07:16] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah, absolutely. And so, what we're looking to do really at the Tier 1 level, so again, addressing all students, is to see how we can create an S E L, a social emotional learning program, for all students, and that could be delivered through homeroom. We're still in the process of this, how we can make sure that we're supporting students at every level with self-awareness and really understanding their own wellbeing. We have a system called Panorama at both high schools, and this is an amazing data system that we use to deliver surveys to the students three times a year, which is the recommended amount, and it's a social emotional screener. It really asks pointed questions about students; can they identify ways to cope? There's a variety of different questions. And, we use that information to help inform our practices. So, we use it again to inform about the curriculum that we're going to develop to address social emotional learning. And then, we look at it to see who is reporting that they, need more supports through that Tier 1 level. And so that's where we've created Tier 1 interventionist at the high school, and those are two licensed certified staff members. Genevieve Misfeldt at Highland Park and Robyn Corelitz and they under this Director of Recovery position are working in both schools respectively to implement systems that are going to help all students, the Tier 1. Then, we looked at trauma interventionists or healing centered I interventionists at both schools, and those would help students with more severe trauma that needed one-on-one supports, and that's Melissa Zientara at Highland Park High School and Josh Novick at Deerfield High School. And so, the idea really, Lisa, was to just look at all students and to see what level of support is needed. All students to get some sort of a delivery of an S E L program through Tier 1 and then the Tier 3 level addressing independent needs for students that are experiencing more trauma.
[00:09:08] Amy O.: And these systems are meant to stay in place after the Director of Recovery's job is, is done, which is at the end of this year. Correct?
[00:09:17] Jen Ginopolis: Absolutely.
[00:09:18] Amy O.: But these systems stay.
[00:09:19] Jen Ginopolis: Yes. I will tell you this, my position was created with sort of not a, a timeline attached to it. And I think that after this year, it makes sense for this position to sort of dissolve and for the systems that are currently in place that I just mentioned, to stay in. Within each school we have something called a multi-tiered system of supports. And so, both of these programs of fall under that system, and there's this own level of like, accountability within the buildings that makes the most sense. And I, have to say that I am so excited that these programs are staying for our students in the building because what we've seen in this year, Amy, and the supports that students have received is pretty unbelievable. So, it excites me that I'll be back in the building as Department Chair of Counseling and I can still see and work with our recovery team.
[00:10:09] Dr. Lisa: Are there parts of what have been implemented already that feel particularly helpful to you? That you've noticed like, wow, this was a real success. I wish all schools around here were, were doing these new things that we've discovered?
[00:10:23] Jen Ginopolis: For sure. I think that the professional development that we've been trying to provide for all of our staff has been amazing. And, that's really just around these healing centered practices, which, like I said before, is really best practices. I also want to say, so many teachers already do this. A lot of this is just a mindset shift. And so, you know, I think this idea of how we're creating the spaces in our building, we're being very explicit about it. Even though intuitively, there are a lot of teachers that do this because that's why we've gone into this field to create safe spaces for students, now it's explicit and there are skills, there are tools, there are strategies to doing this, and we are pushing those out through professional development which is, you know, incredibly important. So again, like doing something intuitively is one thing, but then having the actual strategies behind that is important. So, things like just creating these welcoming environments. This, fascinating book I read in one of the classes that I'm taking called "What Happened to You?" And so, it's this idea instead of like, what's wrong with you, you know, it's what happened to you? Like something happened. And, in this book they say that connectedness is the antidote to addiction or to trauma. And so, this idea of creating spaces where students feel belonging and connectedness. How do you do this? Little things sometimes; greeting a student by name, having student voice and agency within the classroom, having students build classroom charters, having them have a level being a stakeholder in the classroom, feeling connected to the teacher. I mean, those are things that are so important in creating this, this sense of belonging. Amy, were you going to ask me something?
[00:12:01] Amy O.: Yeah. I have so many questions, but just in response to that particular piece, it sounds like what you're also describing is giving the kids agency and control back, not just connection, but a sense of this is my classroom, this is my path. Is that right?
[00:12:19] Jen Ginopolis: Yes. And here's the thing that I also, I always find so interesting. I hear sometimes, well, what about the academics? What about the content? You know students have,
[00:12:29] Amy O.: Sometimes you hear this?
[00:12:30] Jen Ginopolis: I wanted to be nice.
[00:12:32] Amy O.: Yeah, it's okay. You can lay it all out on the line here.
[00:12:35] Jen Ginopolis: Okay. Many times, you know, there's a worry about content. You know I want my child to take this trajectory academically. Here's the beauty of all of this is there's a direct correlation between students' wellbeing, their social emotional health and how they will perform. If somebody out there is listening and they’re still focusing on academics and content. I'm not judging at all, so I want to be very clear on that. But I am here to tell you that there is a correlation to a child feeling good when they are in school. Feeling connected, feeling belonging, feeling like they have agency and voice in the classroom. There's a direct correlation between that and how they will perform academically and how they will attend school. It is all connected, so it doesn't have to be one or the other. That's the beauty of this. It is both of these things.
[00:13:26] Amy O.: Mic drop.
[00:13:28] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah. True.
[00:13:31] Dr. Lisa: Can I ask you a question about that though? Because I mean, in theory, I don't think there's anything I could agree with more. In practice, I think where it sometimes gets tricky is finding that nuance and that balance between supporting a student's mental health. And also, making sure that there are expectations. One thing professionally that I've come across a lot recently in a lot of different high school districts around here, is this idea that the push towards mental health, which I am a large fan of, has at times resulted in a complete release of expectations around things like, for example, homework completion. And so, students are getting good grades in classes, even if they're not turning in any homework anymore, and the school staff are responding with, "We don't want them to be stressed out about this if they can show mastery of material on a test. It's really just not the priority." And, I think where the parent concern then comes in is, but are we preparing our children for success outside of the high school building when there are going to be deadlines and there are going to be expectations, and I'm wondering if you can speak to striking that balance a little bit.
[00:14:49] Jen Ginopolis: This does not take away from boundaries or from expectations. It's the warm demander as Zaretta Hammond talks about in "Culturally Responsive Teaching", it is the ability to create these spaces, but also, hold expectations and boundaries and students accountable for certain things. So, Lisa, I know you because I have taken the time to get to know you and see you and see the layers of you. And so, when you're coming in and you don't have the homework for me, it is a conversation. It's understanding why you don't have homework. It's taking those minutes and this is not taking a full classroom. It's really understanding the layers to why you might not have that in. It's flexibility as opposed to just diminishing of any expectations. It's a flexibility with tests or flexibility with deadlines, flexibility with homework. It's not none at all. And again, like all of the research points to with all of this, you will see an increase in academic, an increase in test scores. So, to somebody who might worry that with this is going to come, a decline in these, it is not what we're seeing at all. Research based statistically. And it also takes time to build these relationships. You know, it takes time to create this space in the classroom. And, and I understand that. I also want to say, I haven't been in the classroom. I taught middle school years ago, so I think it's so important to remember that being in a classroom all day, like teachers, it's tough. And I just want to give that shout out if there are teachers listening or even for parents to understand, there are so many demands for our staff. I just want to acknowledge that as well.
[00:16:25] Amy O.: that was actually going to be the question I had and, and that is that I did spend a number of years in an elementary classroom here as an assistant teacher, and I still am in close touch with a lot of my teaching colleagues. And, you know, almost across the board, if not completely across the board, everyone is reporting complete exhaustion,
frustration. Kids are really struggling, and so behaviors are tough. Classroom management has become, you know, top of mind for everyone. How did the staff in your district how was it received, the sort of change of mindset as you called it, and how is it received now, you know, 10 months later can you speak to that?
[00:17:10] Jen Ginopolis: Of course, I think it's still being received, it's still so, new and I want to say again, these are things that staff has been doing forever, but we're naming it now. We're just more intentional. The position, so Genevieve at Highland Park and Robyn at Deerfield, were created as almost an instructional coach model. So, the idea is to help teachers and, to lessen that load, so to speak, and be able to come in and work with teachers on some strategies to help all of the things that you just talked about, Amy. They've actually taken residencies, they've done collaborations with departments, they have office hours, they have done lunch and learn professional developments to really address this. And, to look at how they can be most helpful to staff. So, a staff member could either come to them and say, " I am frustrated. Nobody's listening. Kids are dysregulated. I need help." That's the idea behind those positions is really to take some of that mental burden off of teachers and to assist them in that way. Here's what else I'll say, any social emotional learning program, so we say an SEL program, you may have heard this term, it's used frequently now, it stands for social emotional learning. What I have learned this year, is that many programs, ones that I am most fond of, address the adults in the building first. Because if you have a dysregulated adult, it is very hard to co-regulate your classroom. I am going to tell you a very interesting story that I heard from Dr. Marc Brackett, who is this social emotional, like rockstar, he is out of the Yale Institute for Emotional Intelligence and he teaches a class on emotional intelligence amongst doing many other things. So, he has a, a large sampling of teachers that he uses for surveys and data and statistics, and he did an experiment or a I don't know what the word
[00:19:05] Amy O.: Study a
[00:19:06] Dr. Lisa: study.
[00:19:07] Jen Ginopolis: Okay. If we can add that in. Edit. So, he did a study, so Marc Brackett did a study and he I don't remember the exact numbers, but let's say he had 10 teachers and he put five of them in a negative head space. How did he do that? Well, he had them journal about a bad experience in their life. Then he took the other five, and again, I'm giving some liberties with numbers. He took the other five and he put them in a positive head space. So, he had them journal about something positive. Then he had them all grade the same paper. And so, where do you think the grades lie?
[00:19:40] Dr. Lisa: I'm going to venture a guess here say that those in a negative head space were harsher graders than those in a
[00:19:47] Jen Ginopolis: two grades lower, Lisa.
[00:19:49] Dr. Lisa: Wow.
[00:19:50] Jen Ginopolis: And so, I'm sharing this all to say the importance of our staff's wellbeing. My daughters, they sense the energy. It's called emotional contagion. They know when they go into a classroom and their teacher's having a bad day. They know that. It's okay for a teacher to also say, to name it, "Today I'm a little frustrated. I'm going to work through it." Modeling that. And so, to help teachers do that and to help teachers have their own level of self-awareness about their emotions and to address that and to address the climate and culture and all of that are really in any SEL, social-emotional learning program, it's typically adults first for the first year. How do we address it with the adults?
[00:20:30] Dr. Lisa: And how do you address it with the adults? Do you have any examples of how you're supporting the teachers and staff in the buildings to then support our children?
[00:20:39] Jen Ginopolis: Absolutely.,
[00:20:39] Amy O.: Donuts are very, very effective. I feel
[00:20:43] Jen Ginopolis: oh, say that, Amy. Yeah, exactly. Honestly, right now what we're trying to do is listen. And so, listening to the staff, kind of similar things that we want for students. Creating spaces where staff feels connected, where staff feels a sense of belonging, where staff feels heard and seen. And so, one example, Lisa is at Highland Park they, they are doing listening sessions where they're sitting down and hearing what staff has to say. And it can be absolutely anything. And so that is step one is really gathering. There's also been, you know, surveys that have been sent out, actually Mark Bracket and Karen Niemi, out of out of Casel, developed a survey for staff asking questions, how are you feeling? Open-ended questions. And then step two, which I think we're going to, we're not there yet, is what do we do with that information? Because nobody wants to take a survey or ask how you're doing and then never have anything done with that. So, the importance of now getting this information, which is what's happening right now, and then moving forward with it.
[00:21:49] Dr. Lisa: I actually did want to revisit what you had said earlier about the student surveys, and I was curious if you're in phase two of that part of, what do you do with all of this incredible data that it sounds like you're collecting about students' mental health through these surveys multiple times per year.
[00:22:04] Jen Ginopolis: It informs our eligibility for students if they need additional supports, but it's also informing the delivery of S E L or social-emotional learning at a Tier 1. So, all student levels, so maybe through homeroom. So, to look at where are the areas of greatest need and then how can we create a system of support, a lesson, whatever it is, around what that need is. It also to me like is informing practice and so Just another quick story. This is just incredibly important with connectedness. So, Mark Brackett, who I referenced earlier, did a study about people having somebody in their life. He's very open. He shares experiences about his own level of trauma. He shares it in his book and he shared it with our professional development. And he talks about the importance of having an adult for students, for children to have an adult in their life. And so, he in his study it came up that 34% of adults share that, when they were children, they had an adult in their life that they felt safe with, that they felt was unconditional and non-judgmental. Only 34%.
[00:23:11] Amy O.: Including their parents.
[00:23:12] Jen Ginopolis: I'm so glad you asked that, Amy. Out of that 34%, only 5% identified that adult as their parent. And so, I share all of this to say, through our Panorama survey, we ask that question, do you have a supported adult in the building that you can go to? And so based on those results, homeroom, I will argue, was born out of some of those results to put adults in children's life that will hopefully connect with them in a way that is unconditional, non-judgmental, a safe place for students.
[00:23:50] Amy O.: I'm a big believer, as I'm sure we all are, that the school is the heart of the community. The high school in particular where every child, or every public-school child in a community, attends. How is or did your district communicate to the families and parents in your community about the Panorama scores? Because I know our community is doing the same survey and about the importance of what you open this podcast with, which is. A child whose mental health is not in a good place, is unable to attend academically the way they would if they felt safe, heard, et cetera.
[00:24:39] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah.
[00:24:40] Amy O.: How did you, how are you doing that? And how are you bringing the community in for buy-in? Because that's, I think, a really important conversation for our audience to.
[00:24:48] Jen Ginopolis: I, completely agree. It's a challenge. We brought Marc Brackett and Karen for an evening program specifically to address every single question that you just asked. To share all of what they've been sharing with us and I think we had 60 parents show up. And so, what I say is that's data for me. I don't want to come at it with like a, I can't believe only 60 parents. I want to say, okay, that's data. So, what do we need to do then to get more parents, like, these are two unbelievable experts. We had Scott Poland come and speak to parents. Right after the fourth, and he is an expert in trauma. And I think there were maybe 10 people there, myself being one of them, I was at both of these. And I don't have an answer like I, but I think it's a good question to say, okay, this is happening. We have these amazing experts to deliver this information to our parents, to our community, and we're not getting the turnout that we should get. What do we do with that? What are we doing wrong? Because I think it's important to hold a mirror to ourselves and to see; what do we need to do? And, how do we need to work with our community to see the level of importance of these events?
[00:25:55] Amy O.: Well, and I think it's important to help our communities understand, and this is one of the things I know CATCH works at every single day. Understand that what's happening in our world, whether it be the tragic shooting on July 4th, the increase in social media, the absolute, you know, contentiousness of our world at large. All of those things have effects on our kids that we may or may not see.
[00:26:21] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah.
[00:26:21] Amy O.: And so, these conversations are becoming increasingly important. And I congratulate your district for having them
[00:26:28] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah.
[00:26:29] Amy O.: and for putting it out there. Pushing us in the right direction.
[00:26:33] Jen Ginopolis: Well and there is so much out there. I'm sorry, Lisa.
[00:26:36] Dr. Lisa: No, go ahead.
[00:26:37] Jen Ginopolis: I just think that there's so much out there to learn and because of this position, I have grown so much. Not only professionally, but personally as a mom, some of the things that I've learned in this space have profoundly affected and changed me as a parent. And so, like even for me to go as a parent to Marc Brackett and Karen Niemi you know, he had this one saying and I put it on the notes in my phone and I went home and I said this to my seven-year-old. And he said, the power of just saying to a child, "You don't have to worry alone." And I was like, that is amazing. And so, these little snippets of information for parents to be able to get to help them grow. Because gosh, we're all so flawed, like we just are and that's okay. But to, to take advantage of these things, I think would, just help us as a community, help us as parents, as educators. I really want to look to see how can we get this out there? And I've attended CATCH events and I feel like they're so well attended. So, I should be picking your brain about how, we can do that.
[00:27:34] Amy O.: The brains that you're picking say stick to it and work hard and sooner or later, you know, maybe the
[00:27:43] Jen Ginopolis: If you build, they will come.
[00:27:44] Amy O.: Yeah. You know, we don't have much time left at all, and I feel like we could invite you back to really learn the ins and outs of what's happening inside the schools. But I think we've done a really good job introducing what trauma-informed education is and why it's important. Is there anything else that you would like to add, Jen, before we sign off on this particular episode?
[00:28:09] Jen Ginopolis: You know, I think. It would be awesome if you ever had time to bring in Melissa Zientara, who is one of our, our Healing Center instructors, and she actually developed a wellness center at Highland Park. I think you'd be so interested in picking her brain, because she can really get into this and talk more specifically about things. Maybe my parting words would be this idea that, what we're talking about is not meant to be an add-on. It's meant to be, hearing and seeing students and creating spaces for students to be who they are. Because if a student is dysregulated, they can't access the ability, the part of the brain that allows them to learn the content or take the test or turn in the homework on time, you know, they can't access that. So, when students feel regulated. When we create these spaces where a student feels like they belong and they are connected, it benefits everybody, it benefits everything; academics, content, attendance, all of it is benefited. So, I think that that would be like my main sound bite that I would like to, to leave with.
[00:29:12] Dr. Lisa: And it sounds like even though, this particular role is a one-year role that you're in right now, the concept is still in its infancy, and I'm really excited to see where it goes and what you guys do with the information and the seeds that you're currently planting. So, thank you.
[00:29:27] Jen Ginopolis: Yeah. Same Lisa.
[00:29:29] Dr. Lisa: Thank you.
[00:29:30] Amy O.: Thank you so much for coming today.
[00:29:31] Jen Ginopolis: Thank you. Thank you, thank you. It was, it was great.
[00:29:34] Dr. Lisa: Stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @catchiscommunity or by visiting our website Catchiscommunity.org.
[00:29:44] Amy O.: We're glad that you joined us to continue the conversation. It's important to talk about our mental health and reach out for help if needed.