Girls Inc. staff member Jaime Sanchez describes that sometimes, before students joined his afterschool class, daytime teachers would warn him, “watch out for that student’s behavior issues. And make sure to keep those two away from each other.”
Jaime is the first to recognize that many students who join Girls Inc. afterschool programs are experiencing significant stress in their lives and communities that can make it a struggle to sit still in class, focus, or control their emotions on difficult days. But, he says, he refused to take what he was told about his students at face value. As he puts it, “I’ve been able to look past that, because if I allowed myself to go by what they’re telling me, then I wouldn’t make an impact on those students.”
And making an impact he is. Jaime uses trauma-informed practices in his classroom to ensure that students feel safe and ready to learn— including those who may be going through difficulties at home. This means creating clear classroom ground rules, supporting students’ positive relationships with one another, and providing each member of the class with a chance to take on leadership roles. And, of course, it means connecting with students in a personal way, and giving them a safe space to talk about areas where they might be struggling, or what their families are going through. As Jaime puts it about one student’s experience, “I relate to that because I grew up like that.”
Being trauma-informed also means building on students’ inherent interests and strengths to spur their engagement in learning. For example, many of his students spend a lot of their time outside class on their phones. Instead of simply seeing that as negative, Jaime decided to harness their technological interests by having students participate in “Hour of Code” where they learn to code their own video games. After successfully coding and rendering the game, they can then text themselves a link so they have their own creation on their phone.
And what about those students who Jaime was warned to keep away from another? They’re not only getting along, but they are working together on projects. “They respect each other … and they’re creating beautiful things,” says Jaime, “and that right there is beautiful to me.”