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Confronting the traumatic: Woodward School receives special certification

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Woodward Children’s Center, on Merrick Road in Freeport, is among the first schools in New York state to be certified as a “trauma-informed” school. Woodward officials announced the certification at a Sept. 26 assembly.

Woodward, a private, nonprofit school, is a “prototype,” said Erin Reed of Michigan-based Starr Commonwealth, the organization that trained and certified the staff. In the U.S., according to Starr’s website, there are about 3,000 other institutions, many of which are not schools, that have the certification.

Principal Danielle Colucci said that Woodward’s new certification means that the entire staff — administrators and teachers — is trained to recognize and respond to students who have been affected by trauma or traumatic stress. The goal of trauma-informed practice, Colucci said, is to provide students with physical, psychological and emotional safety and support, while helping them rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.

“Our students nowadays have so much they have to deal with,” she said. “And as a school, we asked, ‘What can we do?’ This action will better equip students so that they can be successful learners and successful at life.”

Students were also involved in the effort, taking part in an essay-writing contest in which they shared how Woodward has helped them on their personal journeys. Almost all of the students participated in the contest, and 11 were named winners.

At the assembly, those 11 students shared their stories and read excerpts of their essays. One of them, Noemie Gonzalez-Sosa, spoke candidly of her anger issues. “I’ve learned to love others and allowed others to love me,” she said. “I learned how to be patient with others.”

Noemie added that attending Woodward provided her with an environment in which teachers saw the good in her. “I was able to grow mentally,” she said with a smile.

The other 10 students shared stores that were similar to Noemie’s. Their common thread? Woodward was the place where they found hope. It was their safe haven. Now that it is a trauma-informed care school, teachers will be able to address stress and trauma issues in the classroom more quickly.

“The school’s Shield of Resilience is a game changer on the path of resilience,” said Donna Marinelli, a special-education teacher.

The shield’s four key principles are engagement, self-awareness, empathy and citizenship. Marinelli explained that the shield also provides students with key features for personal growth and resilience, which will become a school-wide initiative. “The guidelines on the shield, in addition to each student’s personal goals, will promote long-lasting and measurable goals to personal and academic success.”

On Long Island there are two trauma-informed organizations — Ades Integrated Health Strategies and the Crime Victims Center, according to the New York State Trauma-Informed Network directory.

Woodward teachers are now Certified Trauma Practitioner-Educators, and the social workers are recognized as Certified Trauma Practitioner-Clinicians.

“Woodward will now be the model for trauma-informed care in New York state schools,” Reed said. “What they are doing here is not the norm.”