A psychologist working in the Rutland City Public Schools has been awarded a fellowship she intends to use to institute a “sequenced social emotional curriculum” at Rutland High School.
Stacy Shortle’s proposal is being supported by the Rowland Foundation, which is based in South Londonderry. She plans professional development through the summer and the start of implementing a program that develops “Trauma Informed Schools,” during the 2020-21 school year.
Shortle said the staff at a trauma-informed school has gotten specific education and training in order to help students who have experienced adverse life circumstances which could affect their education as well as their emotional and social lives.
“(Trauma informed schools) provide teachers with tools to be able to utilize in their classrooms to create safe classrooms for students so they’re able to engage in learning and build relationships with teachers and with other students,” she said.
Shortle will be learning more about the subject and how to implement it during the summer when the high school is not in session. This week, for instance, she took part in a conference that happened in Seattle.
Like many professionals in their respective fields, Shortle participated remotely. Even so, she said she was not only able to learn but to network and connect with educators on the West Coast who are already working in trauma-informed schools.
During the approaching semester, Shortle will suspend her usual role as school psychologist to work with educators and staff on developing the means for turning RHS into a trauma-informed school. She said a Castleton University student, from the school psychology program, will take over the evaluations for the course of the new school year.
Shortle said her primary responsibility as school psychologist has been to conduct evaluations to determine whether students are eligible for special education services and to be part of a team that supports students who struggle with learning or who have social or emotional challenges.
Shortle’s application for the Rowland Fellowship was supported by the high school principal, Bill Olsen, who is now transitioning to become the new superintendent, and Greg Schillinger, who is transitioning from assistant principal to principal at the high school.
On Wednesday, Schillinger said Shortle’s proposal was appealing because it “improves the learning experience of the entire student body.”
“Her approach is to develop the professional skills of every adult in the building, so the impact of her work will be felt in every classroom. This is work that we have already begun, and there is still more to do. Teachers with a better understanding of adverse childhood experiences are able to put that understanding into practice with every student,” he said.
Schillinger added that Shortle “works directly with students everyday and is well respected by the faculty and staff throughout the district — She walks the walk. So she is in the perfect position to lead this effort.”
Shortle said she will be working with a steering committee of colleagues and representatives of community organizations like Rutland Mental Health.
RHS teacher Marsha Cassel, along with Erica Wallstrom, was awarded a fellowship in 2014 which she said resulted in the annual Global Issues Network conferences.
“People don’t understand that (the Rowland Fellowship) is focused on kind of a grass-roots, teacher-driven teacher initiative energy. There is so much in public education that is top-down mandated that we try to comply with to the best of our ability. But this funds and supports teacher initiatives where teachers have seen the solution to a challenge and they have initiated something that fits that. It is funded outside of the school budget so it can go forward,” she said.
As the new processes are implemented at RHS, Shortle said the changes are expected to include not just more intensive work with students who need it but support for families, restorative processes when disciplining students and encouragement for self-care by staff and teachers so they are better able to assist students.
“So it’s a really multi-level process that we’re going to be engaging in,” Shortle said.
The transition is expected to take three to five years, she added.