Paxinosa Elementary: Trauma-Informed School

Paxinosa Elementary School (Easton Area School District) is a community school supported by Communities in Schools Lehigh Valley, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley (UWGLV) and Crayola, Inc. As a community school, Paxinosa focuses on addressing the holistic needs of the child and family through before and after school programs, family services and events, and providing basic needs like food, clothing and health services for students. 

Principal Elise Jones knew the profound impact that trauma and stress can have on students. Studies have shown that traumatic experiences in childhood can diminish concentration, memory, and the organizational and language abilities children need to succeed in school. Jones assembled an action plan to transform Paxinosa into a Trauma-Informed School – one in which staff are trained in childhood trauma, how trauma and toxic stress impacts the brain, and trauma-informed classroom practices. A trauma-informed school also teaches students how to recognize and express their feelings in healthy ways through Social Emotional Learning processes.

Thanks to funding provided by UWGLV, Pinebrook Family Answers and Lehigh University’s Dr. Chris Liang and team provided trauma awareness and trauma-informed school training for the Paxinosa staff. The key to a trauma-informed school is the power of safe, nurturing relationships which are key to healing and resilience for youth exposed to trauma and adversity. As school staff began learning about trauma and toxic stress on the brain and behavior, Principal Jones recognized the impact of vicarious, or secondary, trauma on her own staff. If left untreated secondary trauma can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. As the teacher adage goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” so Jones prioritized a focus on self-care and mindfulness for staff in year one of Paxinosa’s trauma-informed school transformation.

Paxinosa Community School Coordinator, Jeanine Stanilious, submitted a proposal to the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley’s Volunteer Challenge seeking a local partner to help transform the staff faculty lounge into an engaging space that promoted self-care and mindfulness. Valley National Financial Advisors accepted the challenge and turned the old lounge into a “Just Press Pause Room” for staff. The beautiful space was equipped with massage chairs, scented diffusers, yoga mats, calming music and lighting. The rules are: no conversations about students and no cell phones to help reduce distractions and encourage staff to take a break, relax and recharge their emotional and mental batteries.

In the new space, staff participate in after-school yoga, before school mindfulness, Zumba classes, nutrition classes and other activities that promote emotional wellness and self-care. Through incentives and staff challenges, Jones encourages staff to make use of the room, practice self-care and mindfulness activities.

The result? Educating staff and students about trauma and promoting self-care has definitely paid off.
Office discipline rates have dropped from 218 in 2017-18 to only 72 in 2019-20, a 67% decrease. Additionally, student suspensions are down by 75%.
Paxinosa is indeed a positive study in the benefits of trauma-informed practices and self-care. 

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