Approximately 300 legislators and community members attended a legislative briefing at the Massachusetts State House on March 19 organized by third year students Marie Scott ’07 and Jocelyn Chung ’07 as part of their clinical work for the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI).
“Working on the briefing has been an incredible learning experience that has not only showed me the intricacies of how the legislative process works, but also how motivated lawyers can use that process to effect meaningful change,” said Chung. “It was extremely fulfilling to see how the struggles and successes of TLPI’s past clients have all contributed to creating a policy agenda that could make a major difference in the lives of so many other children.”
Scott and Chung successfully convened lawmakers to recognize the work of 23 school districts that have been participating in an innovative state-sponsored grant program, which gives participating schools small grants to help create learning environments that are sensitive to the needs of children who have been traumatized by exposure to violence. The Initiative worked to get this legislation passed in 2004.
Working closely with their clinical instructors and Cambridge representative Alice Wolf to plan the event, Scott and Chung obtained sponsorship for the event from the co-chairs of Joint Committee on Education. Wolf was the lead sponsor of the legislation that created the grant program.
As a former middle school teacher, Scott has seen first-hand how trauma affects a child's ability to learn. “Along with my colleagues, I struggled with limited information and strategies to reach these children,” she said. “Through the TPLI clinical, I have learned that whole-school change can help administrators and educators overcome the frustration that I felt as a teacher and create an environment where all children will be able to learn.”
The remainder of the students’ final semester will be spent ensuring that members of the legislature—now educated about the impact of trauma on learning—vote to increase funding for the trauma-sensitive schools grant program. $1.25 million was appropriated for the program this year; Scott and Chung will advocate to increase that amount to $2 million for next year’s budget.
The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative is a joint project of HLS’ Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center and Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a non-profit children’s rights organization in Boston.