WorcesterHEARS is a pilot project that brings together advances in brain science, child development, and best practices to address childhood adversity in our complex society. It is also about working with children to develop the social and emotional skills—the habits of the heart and qualities of character that will enable them to thrive in our complex and ever changing world.
In five Worcester public schools, WorcesterHEARS is creating environments that support children’s health, social and emotional development, and academic success. Worcester HEARS has launched at: Rice Square Elementary, Grafton Street Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary, City View Elementary, and Worcester East Middle School.
The central partners of the WorcesterHEARS project are: The Worcester Public Schools, The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, and the Worcester Education Collaborative, and many other participating organizations.
WorcesterHEARS works to combat the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that profoundly harm children’s developing brains. “ACEs” comes from the Center for Disease Control-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases, depression and other mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. The ACE Study has published about 70 research papers since 1998. Hundreds of additional research papers based on the ACE Study have also been published.
WorcesterHEARS schools use The Flexible Framework, an organizational tool that enables schools and districts—in collaboration with families, local community organizations, and outside providers—to maintain a whole school focus as they create trauma sensitive schools. While WorcesterHEARS is about developing social and emotional skills in students, it is also equally about changing the behavior of the adults and how they respond to poor behavior on the parts of students. At WorcesterHEARS schools:
- Parents are welcome to attend workshops on child development and social and emotional learning.
- Children are learning mindfulness skills that help reduce anxiety and build self-control.
- Teachers are taking courses from Lesley University to become leaders in this approach and shape changes in their schools.
- Principals and teachers are supporting each other and sharing effective ways of developing their students’ social, emotional and academic skills.
- Worcester Public Schools are working with health providers to improve the referral process for behavioral and mental health services.
WorcesterHEARS is built on research originally conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Foundation and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The ACE Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. Children who experience trauma face tremendous challenges in learning, making friends and trusting adults. They are the “problem” kids. Schools suspend them.
A planning grant from The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts allowed us bring together a wealth of expertise to develop an intervention focused on social and emotional learning—specifically cultivating resilience as a means of mitigating the effects of students’ exposure to adverse childhood experiences and the toxic stress that such exposure creates. WEC and Worcester Public Schools convened an array of community partners to implement planning for Worcester HEARS. These partners include: Clark University, Community Healthlink, and Family Health Center of Worcester.
- Change school climates and policies on discipline and suspension;
- Build resilience in children and families as a means of mitigating the effects of toxic stress;
- Work with parents and community organizations in supporting children in the 3Rs—Resilience, Resistance, and Resourcefulness, and
- Ultimately result in more students attending school more consistently and with greater capacity to learn.