A few months ago we launched a search for a Learning Specialist to allow us to create and share best practices in trauma-informed instruction as well as methods for identifying and supporting students with learning disabilities.
Because such a high proportion of our incarcerated students are living with the long-term effects of trauma, student support services that incorporate trauma-informed practices are particularly critical for our work. Our goal is to understand the impact trauma has had on our students’ educational experiences, both in the way they view themselves as learners and their awareness of the resources available to them.
In a survey of incarcerated students enrolled in the College Program, nearly 90% were victims of violence or abuse while growing up, nearly 50% had experienced homelessness, and 36% had struggled with food insecurity. Of the surveyed students, 33% reported that they either had been diagnosed with a learning disability or suspected they had one. These experiences can cause long-term emotional and psychological barriers to learning. Currently our instructors are trained to identify students who are struggling and develop plans to help them finish course materials at their own pace. We created the Learning Specialist position as an extension of our work in an effort to train staff and faculty to maintain physically and emotionally safe learning environments in which student needs are met with a holistic, collaborative, and culturally competent approach. One that empowers and supports our students with learning disabilities and benefits our entire student body.
Allison Lopez brings years of experience to this role, previously serving as the College Preparatory English Program Coordinator. In this new position she will design, implement and manage expanded services for students with learning disabilities, psychological obstacles to learning, and challenges related to a history of trauma. Broadly, she will work to build organizational capacity to improve student support.
This new position is made possible by generous support from the Ascendium Education Group, and is tied to a larger initiative to share these new trauma-informed practices and approaches with practitioners of prison higher education around the country.