Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $557,394)
The Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO)’s 3-year comprehensive school safety project prevents and reduces school violence through the following multi-tiered strategies: incorporation of social emotional learning (SEL) and anti-bullying curriculum; broad implementation of SEL in the context of district design; layered in-depth trauma-informed practice trainings; and family therapy. The trainings and workshops offered to NSSEO staff, member district staff, Illinois Service Resource Center (ISRC) staff, Special Education Leadership Academy staff, local law enforcement, first responders, and parents are all focused on improving school climate, reducing incidents of aggression or self-injury, and providing intensive supports to students in mental health crises. NSSEO serves students with significant disabilities from its eight member districts in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing and/or blind or visually impaired and who exhibit behavioral, emotional, or mental health challenges throughout the entire state of Illinois through the ISRC. Therefore, the project benefits students with significant special needs statewide. As the COVID-19 pandemic further impacted NSSEO & ISRC students’ mental health needs, the project was designed to incorporate a comprehensive SEL and trauma-informed mental health approach to learning. Overall school safety is improved by an SEL focus, reinforcing safety measures for students, staff and the community. Seminars and workshops on: cultivating a safe, supportive, connected culture; school violence reduction, trauma-informed response, school climate and bullying; classroom environment, classroom culture and climate, explicit SEL and communication skills instruction and teacher instructional practice tailored to students on the autism spectrum; principles of structured teaching and best practice applications and interventions; and improving school culture through a racial equity lens in order to promote equity, diversity and inclusion will provide staff with extensive knowledge that will be utilized to support students with disabilities and decrease occurrences of mental health crisis situations and student aggression. In addition, staff will attend SEL conferences in order to deepen learning and integrate that knowledge into student curriculum. Trainings on de-escalation strategies, trauma-informed practices, restorative practice in response to crises, SEL, resilience, preventative and reactive responses to problem behavior at home and collaboration and continuity of service between home and school will benefit local law enforcement, first responders, families and students. Lastly, family therapy will be offered to students experiencing mental health crises that are in need of intensive supports.