Aurora Mental Health Center
Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools (HEARTS)
Program Director: Laura McArthur, PhD

Children who have experienced early, chronic trauma such as family or community violence can develop emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and relationship difficulties that can adversely impact their ability to learn and function well in school (see Cole et al., 2005 for a review). If not addressed, these difficulties can put students at greater risk for school dropout, suspension or expulsion (Porche et al., 2011; Eitle & Eitle, 2004). Further, children of color are more likely to be born into poverty (Children’s Defense Fund, 2007), and living in urban poverty is associated with higher risk for experiencing trauma (Kiser & Black, 2005). Thus, unaddressed trauma likely contributes to the “school to prison pipeline,” in which African and Latino American students are at disproportionately elevated risk for suspension, expulsion, and drop out from school (Civil Rights Data Collection, 2009), and in turn are at disproportionately high risk for imprisonment during their lifetime (Children’s Defense Fund, 2007). The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) HEARTS program was developed in 2008 in collaboration with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). In 2013, Aurora Mental Health Center began to implement HEARTS in partnership with Aurora Public School District (APS). HEARTS aims to promote school success for traumatized youth by creating more trauma-sensitive, safe, and supportive school environments.

HEARTS provides:

  1. Direct service – Aurora Mental Health school-based therapists work on-site to provide individual, group, and family therapy services for children with trauma-related mental health struggles.
  2. Training– Aurora Mental Health and APS HEARTS staff provide trainings for school staff and administration at schools and with district-level personnel. Key training objectives include: 1) understand and address burnout and secondary trauma via self-care and organizational strategies, 2) understand the impact of complex trauma on school communities, including student learning and behavior, 3) learn and practice strategies for working with trauma-impacted youth and creating safer and more supportive learning environments.
  3. Ongoing support and consultation – Teachers and staff work with school-based therapists and other HEARTS staff throughout the school year to implement strategies and address key school issues through a trauma-informed lens.

Goals of HEARTS include:

  1. increase staff knowledge and practice of trauma-informed classroom strategies,
  2. build staff capacities to support and sustain trauma-impacted students,
  3. increase student engagement and instructional time,
  4. integrate a cultural and equity lens with trauma understanding to reduce racial disparities in suspensions/expulsions, and
  5. improve school staff self-care.

HEARTS has been demonstrated to be feasible and acceptable, and outcome data is promising. Currently we are focusing HEARTS efforts in 10 APS Schools:

  • Altura Elementary
  • Clyde Miller P-8
  • Crawford Elementary
  • Fletcher Community School
  • Paris Elementary
  • Park Lane Elementary
  • South Middle School
  • Vaughn Elementary
  • and Aurora West College Prep Academy Middle