SiLAS May Newsletter – COVID Trauma Informed Care/ACES

The Importance of Mental Health During the Pandemic 

According to the World Economic Forum, 1.5 billion children are out of school and 99% of children have had their daily movements and routines disrupted due to the Coronavirus. It comes as no surprise the current situation is having some degree of a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of every child-every human being-around the globe. Of Greater concern are those children who were already experiencing obstacles effecting their overall wellbeing. These struggles are now magnified exponentially when other factors such as; financial uncertainty, increased stressors within the family dynamics, substance abuse, by either the caregivers or the child himself/herself, and increased responsibility placed upon the child. 

Understanding Trauma

Trauma is an individual’s involvement in a deeply distressing or disturbing event. First and foremost, as adults, we must understand each and everyone of us has experienced trauma to some degree throughout our lives. Amid this novel virus outbreak, the vast majority of the population’s brains are being “rewired” as we speak in response to the daily trauma accompanying the current situation.  As educators and mental health practitioners, it is imperative we understand the effects trauma has on one’s brain development. This brief video provides information regarding  Effects of Trauma on the Brain.

Trauma Informed Care

Trauma informed care is a method where practitioners approach every individual as if they have experienced trauma. Trauma Informed Care is designed to decrease the likelihood re-traumatization will occur. The Five Principles of Trauma Informed Care are; safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. Want to learn more? Visit the following Trauma Informed Care and ACES Assessment sites. 

Addressing Compensatory Services and/or Extended School Year (ESY)? 

The Federal and State Education Departments have recognized the immense difficulty facing teachers when implementing and assessing progress for SEL skills in the current learning environment. Due to these extenuating circumstances, many schools are holding Case Conferences to determine if their student is entitled to ESY and/or compensatory hours. Whether these services are scheduled to take place virtually, in person or a combination of the two; SiLAS’ curriculum is able to meet the needs of both students and professionals.  Our distance learning has been modified into short daily SEL lessons.  We have also added our Create Link so that teachers can give students the ability to create SiLAS movies at home.  

As COVID Continues…

Some of you may be out for the summer, some of you may have one more month, and some of you may be gearing up to start summer school. Whatever these next three months brings you, one thing remains the same; we will continue to provide curriculum and technology support as well help you brainstorm and provide a number of resources to meet your students’ unique needs.

In this issue of Tips and Tricks we are sharing one way a user has implemented SiLAS’ new components. Cheryl Fitzgerald is a SLP from Tenafly Public Schools in New Jersey. Cheryl was also showcased in a previous SiLAS Spotlight. Please take a moment to read Cheryl’s excitement and success she has experienced using SiLAS with distance learning. 

“I was watching your video this past weekend (on how to make the videos remotely) and set this as my students’ assignments for the week.  And within day, a student made a video with his mom, saved it and I was able to view it!  This is SOOOOOO cool and I’m so appreciative of you guys for all your amazing work, so thank you!  For the prior 2 weeks I used the anxiety curriculum–given the current situation, I wanted to gauge their overall well-being–and was able to find books to go along with it, on EPIC (Scaredy Squirrel, Jaylah’s Jitters, etc) that they have access to. I used Google slides to make a presentation, and then they could type their responses right in there.  It was a great lesson and it brought up a lot of things.”

After reading Cheryl’s enthusiastic response, we thought there isn’t a better way to both show you the potential of the distance learning tools and our willingness to come alongside our users and help ideas become reality! Our team is always excited when educators share their personal spin on the SiLAS curriculum. This week we encourage you to select an element from the program and make it your own! The bulleted list below highlights Cherly’s spin and a few other ideas to support kids. 

  • Choose Read Alouds or Independent Books to Accompany Topic
  • Incorporate Other Apps and Programs into SiLAS Lessons (NearPod, Google Slides, etc…) 
  • For Students Without Access to Technology Create a Script By Phone 
  • Engage Learners by Creating Polls Using an App Like Kahoot to Critique, Review and Assess Example Videos 
  • Encourage Students to Create Scripts/Animations Independently and Schedule a Zoom Debut
  • Be Creative and Share Your Brilliant Ideas! 

From all of us at SiLAS, stay well and find ways to relax and enjoy the nice weather!  

SiLAS receives grant in partnership with Dr. Torres, Rutgers University

SiLAS is excited to announce that we have received a grant in partnership with Dr. Torres, Rutgers University &  the New Jersey Autism Center for Excellence from the NJ Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism. The two year grant will help us connect social skills and emotional rhythms.

The Abstract

We combine the Socially Interactive Learning Avatar Software, SiLAS the computer technology successfully used across schools of NJ, with new fit-bit like technology that provides real-time measures of biophysical activities, while engaging the children in natural social situations that they themselves design. Through playful settings the children interact socially while using as proxy avatars that they themselves build and watch interact. SiLAS teaches the child about social appropriateness. Importantly, since the children themselves build their social script, and SiLAS endows the avatar with their own voice, eyes and bodily motion patterns as the interaction unfolds, the ensuing learning process is dynamic and fluid. SiLAS helps develop a sense of body ownership and leads to the self-discovery of social appropriateness by having the children assess and discuss the social consequences of their actions with their teacher, as a social group. This form of awareness built through access to their own facial gestures, voices, eye and bodily motions, goes beyond direct prompting. It speaks of intrinsically generated rewards that emerge from emotional awareness and social binding, generalizing to multiple contexts.

SiLAS integrated with computational tools developed by neuroscientists will provide real time biofeedback on levels of stress / satisfaction, as the children enact their scripts and acquire ownership and agency of their social interactions and their consequences. Further, the program will be deployed in the vocational training classes, to help adolescents excel at job interviews and job retention, during their transition into adulthood. At the completion of the project, the curricular activities including SiLAS as part of their training at the schools, will include new scripts made by the children/adolescents and teachers, new biometrics of social interactions for real-time biofeedback, and a wealth of biophysical data for use in neuroscience, and special ed.