Two IUPUI faculty to develop programs to help Indianapolis K-12 students cope with violence, trauma

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has selected two IUPUI faculty members, along with two community partners, for its Clinical Scholars program, an initiative that will provide funding and leadership training to the four team members to implement a project that will help thousands of K-12 students in Indianapolis cope with violence and trauma they experience in their lives.

The project will focus on students in Washington Township's 12 public schools as well as two charter schools, Indianapolis Metropolitan High School and Vanguard Collegiate of Indianapolis.

The Clinical Scholars program will provide $420,000 for the project team to implement the project, "Responsive Schools: Building a Trauma Responsive Learning Community for All Children."

It will also provide high-level training over the next three years to equip the team with the individual, team, technical and system-level advanced leadership skills needed to create a culture of health that addresses complex health issues faced by large communities.

Members of the team are Wanda Thruston, a clinical assistant professor in the Indiana University School of Nursing; Barbara Pierce, an associate professor in the IU School of Social Work; Megan Carlson, a pediatric nurse practitioner who is chief nursing officer at the Shalom Health Care Center; and Kristine Eaton, a social worker who is the director of social work for Franklin Township Schools.

"We're excited about this," said Thruston, the team leader. "An opportunity like this doesn't come around too often."

The Clinical Scholars program is an initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Under the initiative, teams of interdisciplinary health care providers are selected for intensive leadership development so they can acquire the skills needed to bring innovation and transformation -- centered around health equity -- to their local communities that impact root causes of inequity in health.

The Indianapolis project is one of 10 that were selected in 2018 from 81 applicant teams of interprofessional health care providers from across the nation.

"In Indianapolis, the team will address problems stemming from the community violence, other forms of trauma, poverty and inequality children are exposed to at fairly regular intervals," Pierce said.

"While we can't change the city in which they live, we can change how kids respond to what the environment throws at them and help them learn to respond in a more resilient way," Pierce said. "We can teach things like social-emotional responses and coping skills to be resilient. We can help kids deal with bullying and trauma."

Thruston said the project has begun with talks with Washington Township school administrators to determine the kinds of programs they would like to see developed.

While the project targets students in Indianapolis, Thruston said, a goal is to develop a toolkit that will enable the resiliency programs the team develops to be used with children across Indiana and the nation.

Thruston and Pierce credit the Charles R. Bantz Chancellor's Community Fellowship Award they received with laying the foundation for their successful application to the Clinical Scholars program. The Community Fellowship Award was for a project titled "Creation of Trauma-Responsive Services for Indianapolis Metropolitan High School: Using an Internal-Design Team Approach." The work they started as part of that grant will continue and be expanded upon with the Clinical Scholars program.

The two researchers also cited the support of the deans of their two schools and the peer-review grant process provided by the School of Nursing that strengthened their Clinical Scholars program proposal.

"This is not just Wanda and me doing this little thing," Pierce said. "This has been a team effort, which is critical to receiving this sort of an award."

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