Hope Comes from a Community of Caring

Rochester Community Schools Commits to Social-Emotional Wellness

Shaner and school board members stand on a stage around a podium

RCS Dr. Shaner at RRC Community Outlook press conference

In just one year’s time, Rochester Community Schools (RCS) has made great strides to care for the social-emotional health and well-being of its students and staff. By partnering with the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities, the district is focused on building a culture that increases compassion, accountability, equity and belonging for all.

Rochester Community Schools is currently the only Michigan school district leveraging the expertise of the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities in a districtwide rollout.

“Perhaps the most important point of emphasis from the conversation is that all stakeholders need to understand that this work is unlike curricular or instructional change,” said Superintendent Robert Shaner, Ph.D. “It is a mindset shift, a systemic district focus, not a series of events. It will require an ongoing process, not a time-bound solution. When the social-emotional work is truly being implemented, it will not require additional tasks; it will be a way of life.”

With Tragedy, Comes Hope

Although Rochester Community Schools remains a high-performing and well-loved district, it has not been immune to tragedy. The entire community, like so many others across the country, has been impacted by suicides, drug-related deaths of former students, and reports of student anxiety and depression.

In a heartbreaking account, Michelle Young, stepmother of Zachary Young, a 2013 Stoney Creek High School graduate who lost his battle to opioid addiction in 2017 said, “I would have never have imagined being with this blonde little boy, taking him to the park, riding bikes and selling lemonade that his story would end the way it did.”

“Throughout America, students are experiencing a rising tide of social and emotional challenges. Rochester Community Schools is very fortunate that the leadership of their district is creating a comprehensive behavioral health continuum to address this growing challenge. I am extremely impressed with their proactive leadership on behalf of their students,” said Bill Daggett, Ph.D., founder and chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

Deepening Learning to Become Trauma-Informed, Trauma-Resilient Leaders

Over the past year, the district has moved purposefully from information gathering to action.

“As the district moves forward, great care and thoughtful consideration is displayed to ensure the work is sustainable and systemic,” said Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Debi Fragomeni. “Through extensive education and training, we are building our capacity to support a trauma-resilient community. We are also shifting the culture to remove the stigma associated with mental health. Our children need to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”

In February 2019, RCS formed a task force to evaluate the types of programs currently in place, study organizational best practices, and create and execute a plan to promote positive social-emotional wellness and resilience.

In order to better understand varying perspectives regarding the challenges facing today’s youth, the district hosted a roundtable discussion with congressional, judicial, and law enforcement appointees, regional celebrities, medical professionals, academic experts, students and families.

Then, after attending educational meetings and researching programs that support social-emotional learning, the task force recommended inviting subject-matter expert and author, Shenandoah Chefalo, to a staff professional development session. Chefalo connected the task force to the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities to lead the type of systemic change needed within the district.

“I applaud Rochester Community Schools’ commitment and dedication to building a trauma-responsive and trauma-resilient culture. Through compassion and accountability, this community is working to improve the overall organizational health and effectiveness for its students,” said Chefalo. “By embedding and embodying this work, RCS will have an incredibly positive impact, not only for students, but for staff and the whole community at large.”

Teachers, administrators, and staff continue to receive extensive training through the Center for Trauma Resilient Communities. But this training serves as just a beginning.

Partnerships are Critical for Success

The district is thankful for those community members who have graciously reached out with additional opportunities and support to continue the journey with fidelity.

The Rochester Community Schools Foundation, the Rochester Rotary, and other private donors generously contributed to the district’s initial efforts to provide training for all teachers and administrators. The City of Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett also connected Dr. Shaner with an opportunity to advocate for all students at a White House summit in Washington, D.C., where the focus was on transforming mental health treatment to combat homelessness, violence and substance abuse.

Hope Comes from a Community of Caring

“I am here to assure you that there is hope,” said Dr. Shaner. “We get our hope and our strength from a community who cares, a community who is willing to honestly and openly approach this public health crisis without hesitation or doubt, and promote change.

“Our experts tell us that we need to start with developing a culture that supports social-emotional wellness and then work towards prevention, intervention, and finally treatment. Our long-term vision is to have a clinician in every school so all children can get the social-emotional support that is needed.”

Rochester Community Schools is currently applying for a competitive grant to secure a clinician for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

“This is one clinician in one building, but it’s a start,” said Dr. Shaner. “As one of the largest school districts in the state of Michigan, we have 21 school buildings. Wouldn’t it be great to have a clinician in every school?

“At Rochester Community Schools, we are blessed to be part of a community that values education and puts the needs of our children first. Together with our families, friends, community and business partners, I am confident that we can be part of the solution. We can create a healthy culture that promotes tolerance, inspiration, hope, and belonging. We can make a difference.”

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