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Hear about the programs and stories that are driving learning renewal in Illinois schools. We invite you to share how you are investing federal relief funds to help students recover.

The Resilience Education to Advance Community Healing (REACH) Statewide Initiative supports trauma-responsive practices in schools so that all students and school staff can thrive. Fifty-two schools participated in the REACH pilot project to cultivate resilience through the development of schoolwide policies and practices that support students and educators.​

 Lewis Lemon Elementary School, Rockford

Lewis Lemon Elementary School

At Rockford Public School 205's Lewis Lemon Elementary School, Principal Christina Ulferts is leading the way as part of the REACH Statewide Initiative to help students be successful in school. Students who are dealing with hardships outside of the school building can experience interruptions when it comes to their readiness to learn. The initial steps in the REACH Statewide Initiative include completing training for staff and then doing an assessment of the school's needs to be able to meet the social and emotional needs of its students and staff.

“The assessment opened our eyes to the need for more trauma training for the staff -- specifically, how to recognize trauma and how to support trauma-impacted students," said Ulferts. “Lewis Lemon is located in a high-poverty and high-crime neighborhood, which creates many challenges." Being part of REACH has allowed the school to implement new practices and fine-tune existing ones. It has created “chill zones" for students, addressed its referral process, and has engaged a trauma therapist to assist students.

 East High School, Aurora

East High School

Principal Jon Simpson has nothing but good things to say about East Aurora School District 131's East High School participation in the REACH Statewide Initiative. Developed and launched by Lurie #REACHIllinois guides school leaders to create the environment and help them teach the skills needed to be resilient in the face of potentially traumatic experiences. “It is so well-structured from the training to the assessment ... all of it, it has been really resource-rich. Since each team member has different background knowledge on how trauma affects students, it has been really helpful to get us on the same page," Simpson said.

Schools participating in the REACH Statewide Initiative conduct an assessment of their school as a team. “There were so many things (related to trauma) that we were already doing, but REACH gave us a structured way of looking at what was going well and areas where we could do some work. Talking through what works with other schools and districts was super helpful, and everyone brought different resources and ideas. REACH provided the environment for these rich conversations," said Simpson.

Simpson noted that participating in the initiative was complementary to other areas of focus for the school. “REACH really ties into the work that we are already doing. We have been using the phrase 'Do you see me?' as a district during staff-focused professional development. This phrase is meant to focus on seeing individuals for who they are and what they need," he shared. “I'm always amazed at how pieces fall together and fit together perfectly."

 Broadmeadow Elementary School, Rantoul

Broadmeadow Elementary School 

Positive. Hopeful. Excited. Resolute. Determined. Pumped. Optimistic.

These are the words that members of the REACH team at Rantoul City Schools' Broadmeadow Elementary School used to describe how they were feeling about the team's next steps. Team members used their participation in the REACH Statewide Initiative to assess areas of strength and opportunity so they can support the mental and emotional health of students and staff. The team, led by Principal Amy Blomberg, completed its assessment, and developed an action plan based on the areas that needed the most work.

“Everyone did the assessment individually and then we completed the consensus process and were able to pinpoint the lowest areas. There were some surprises, but other areas weren't a surprise. We felt like it was important to own those scores, so we were very honest in the scoring process. It was hard to see that as a leader of the building, but we had to own where we were at," said Blomberg.

Broadmeadow has completed the assessment and developed an action plan and the next step will be to implement that plan. One of their first steps was to dedicate spaces for self-care spaces for students, teachers, and parents (pictured here).

 “My hope is that this will not be another plan on a paper. And that this will be implemented the way it is written with fidelity to address the impacts of the pandemic," said Blomberg. “We were already dealing with the effects of trauma before the COVID-19 pandemic -- kids with a strong emotional response and students with high needs who had experienced trauma. We know we have to do something.  This is our second year of COVID, and we owe it to our kids to take some actions steps and do something about this."​

 Ridgely Elementary School, Springfield

Ridgely Elementary School 

“Our school community has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. So many students and their families have returned with not only a learning loss but less connected and engaged. Getting the families back in the groove has consumed our diligent work during first semester and will definitely continue during this second half of the school year," said Principal Ken Gilmore of Springfield Public Schools District 186's Ridgely Elementary School.

The school is participating in the REACH Statewide Initiative; its REACH team has participated in trauma training to better understand how trauma affects students. “The trauma information has put a name to the unexplainable challenges we have faced with some of our students and their families," said Gilmore. “I'm uncomfortable thinking of how insensitive the education world has been in the past, to almost turn a blind eye, to people who are in need or experiencing a crisis. We are helping the team to better understand our past practices so as we move forward, we can be more sensitive in our future changes and practices."

 Huffman Elementary School, Cahokia

Huffman Elementary School 

Empathy. Perseverance. Self-discipline. Self-esteem.

These are the core values that Cahokia Unit School District #187's Huffman Elementary School has woven through the fabric of their school. They use these values to help students develop good character, learn from their mistakes, and celebrate their growth. They are also at the center of Huffman's efforts as they participate in the REACH Statewide Initiative to ensure that students who have experienced trauma or are struggling with their social-emotional development have the support they need.

Principal Melissa Rebmann shared how the school has been using their core values to put students' well-being first, so they are in the right mindset to delve into academic priorities and learning recovery. “When they do have a conflict or issue, we might ask, 'How could you have shown empathy?' or 'How could you have shown self-discipline?' They are kids. It's not about getting in trouble. When we really start talking about these core values, it helps them become the better person that they can be."

Huffman held its first core values parade at the beginning of the school year as another way to incorporate these values into the school and connect it to the community. Each grade level was assigned a core value. Students created signs and banners to represent the value and paraded through the nearby neighborhood with the deputy mayor and other local officials also participating.

What changes have they seen with students? “We've seen changes in their language, especially in fifth-graders. A student was asked, 'Was that showing empathy to your classmate?' and when the student didn't understand the meaning, another classmate rattled it off quickly. We've used simple language to explain the meaning of the values so it's easy for kids to understand. I can see the wheels are turning and that they are really thinking about it," said Rebmann.​

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