Posted on Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Virginia’s Community Colleges are about to take a leadership position on training faculty, staff and administrators to identify and better serve students who have suffered traumatic events. The goal is to have more than 300 trauma informed individuals across all 23 of our colleges by this time next year.


“When we can recognize the problems our students are facing and assist them in addressing the root cause, students can be healthier and better prepared to reach their goals,” said Laura Clark, assistant vice chancellor for Student Success and Professional Development. “We’ll be the first community college system in the nation to offer ‘trauma informed’ training at this scale for faculty, staff, and administrators.”

The scope of the problem:

Research by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that one in four people endure “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs) so severe they can lead to lifelong negative impacts, including anxiety, depression and suicide, substance abuse and lost educational opportunities. ACEs also can contribute to physical ailments such as diabetes.

Understanding the impact of toxic stress that can come from adverse childhood trauma has its roots in the medical community but that work has expanded to other areas including early childhood education, K-12, juvenile justice, law enforcement, social services, and counseling programs.


McGuire’s community college class at the Washington State Penitentiary


“Trauma Informed Care has changed my life,” said Tony McGuire, who teaches many students who suffered traumatic backgrounds. McGuire is instructor of building maintenance technology at Walla Walla Community College’s North Campus, located inside the Washington State Penitentiary.

“After learning about the way our brain functions, it explained so much about my own life. I now teach my students Resilience on a daily basis and have implemented Trauma Informed Care in the classroom so my students can learn the mental side of being employed,” said McGuire.

“We work with an increasingly diverse population to create pathways to employment,” added Clark. “Understanding the lifelong impact of adverse childhood experiences and addressing the negative consequences of those experiences is a key to building a successful future for many of our students.”


“A trauma-informed approach is important because we never know what our students have experienced or are dealing with, and these experiences can affect them in profound ways,” said Rachel Strawn, program director and coordinator for the VCCS Great Expectations program. “If we practice in a trauma-informed way, we will move into our interactions with students with positive intent, not with blame or judgement, and in turn, help build resilience in them.”

Goals of training:

The key objective of the training is to provide information about identifying and responding to trauma with evidence-based resilience strategies when working with an audience whose trauma history may not be known.

Training is appropriate for anyone in the VCCS who works with students on campus or engages in the student experience, including faculty, staff, coaches, advisors, workforce professionals, front line personnel, administrators and college leadership.

Five-hour training sessions will introduce the Community Resilience Initiative’s capacity-building framework for building resilience. Participants will learn how to implement evidence-based strategies into action.

The Community Resilience Initiative (CRI) aims to increase awareness of the impact of childhood trauma, and strategies for helping victims overcome their past experiences.

More information about CRI can be found here.

Upcoming VCCS training opportunities:

Certification Sessions will be offered through the Student Success Center’s Regional Resource Centers (RRC).

October 25: Mid-Central RRC @ JSRCC Parham campus – Trauma Informed Campus and Classroom. Sign-up now, here.

November 1: Northern RRC @ NOVA – Annandale campus – Trauma Informed Campus and Classroom. Sign-up by noon, October 24 here.

April 15-17: New Horizons 2020: Pre-registration for this certification will be required and will be available when conference registration opens in November.

Dates will be scheduled for spring semester at the Central, Western, and Tidewater Regional Resource Centers.

Learn more about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences here.'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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