VB Gives Back

#VBGIVESBACK: Cristina Cuomo

June 1, 2017

We are honored to support Turnaround for Children as part of our ongoing #VBGIVESBACK program and will be donating $10 of every VeronicaBeard.com order in June to the cause.
As a mother of three, Cristina Cuomo understands the important role education plays in a child’s life and it is what inspired her to get involved with Turnaround for Children. Founded by Dr. Pamela Cantor, Turnaround for Children is dedicated to helping students who are facing adversity to succeed academically.

The founder and editor of PURIST, a new online and print wellness magazine debuting this summer in the Hamptons, Cristina has been a board member of the organization for 10 years and has seen first-hand the impact its innovative school partnerships and advocacy work have on improving educational opportunities for children. Read more about Turnaround’s goals and shop today to support this incredible organization!

How did Turnaround for Children start?

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Pamela Cantor, M.D., a practicing child psychiatrist for 18 years, helped lead a team commissioned by the New York City Board of Education to assess the impact of the terrorist attacks on the city's public schoolchildren. Surprisingly, while 68% of the children they observed experienced trauma sufficient to impair their functioning in school, it was from their ongoing experience of growing up in poverty, not from what they witnessed that terrifying day. What's more, Dr. Cantor and the researchers found that schools in high-poverty communities were in a state of chaos, woefully ill-equipped to meet the intense psychological and academic needs of their students.

Turnaround for Children was founded in 2002 to address this need. With support from the 9/11 fund, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Tiger Foundation and the New York Times Foundation, Dr. Cantor founded Turnaround to address the recurring, predictable challenges that plague chronically underperforming public schools.

What inspired you to become involved in the organization?

In 2006, I enrolled my three-and-a-half-year-old in a preschool called Hollingworth at Columbia University. Once I was on the education track as a mom, I befriended another mother, Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber, the founder and director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, a global suicide program at Columbia Presbyterian, who was also chairman of the board of Turnaround, then in its infancy stage. Our experience together with our first children in such a special classroom, coupled with her strong influence over me, gave me the impetus I needed to understand the incredible impact a decent education can have on a child. But once I met the founder, Dr. Pamela Cantor, and heard her vision, that was all I really needed to be inspired to support her work.

What are Turnaround for Children's Goals?

Turnaround’s vision is that one day all children in the United States will attend schools that prepare them for the lives they choose. The organization’s mission is to translate neuroscientific research into tools and strategies for schools with high concentrations of students impacted by adversity, in order to accelerate healthy development and academic achievement.

What are the biggest challenges facing the organization?

In education, there are many competing priorities, including choice, standards, teacher accountability systems, STEM learning and more. One of Turnaround’s biggest challenges is getting states, districts, and schools to recognize, understand and address the impact of adversity on student learning and development and to make this a top priority. With 51% of children attending public schools in the United States today growing up in low-income households, understanding and addressing the impact of adversity should be one of the primary goals of public education.

How many schools has Turnaround worked with?

Turnaround has partnered with 88 public schools through the 2016-17 school year.

How does Turnaround work directly with low-performing schools?

We work directly with high-poverty public schools to establish environments that accelerate healthy student development and academic achievement. We translate the science that explains the impact of adverse childhood experiences - including homelessness, abuse, loss of a loved one - on learning and behavior for teachers and administrators into tools and strategies that cultivate a safe environment, reduce stress and increase engagement in learning.

Student Support
We help partner schools build tiered support systems that implement schoolwide policies and procedures to support all students. This includes classroom and small group interventions for at-risk students and individualized, timely services for the highest-needs students. We connect schools with a community-based mental health partner and set up a Student Support Team – frequently made up of teachers, administrators and social workers – which organizes individualized plans for students and tracks their behavioral, emotional and academic progress.

Teacher Training
We provide professional development and coaching for teachers and school staff in instructional strategies that ensure safe, engaging, productive classrooms and drive critical areas of student development, such as self-regulation, that are most impacted by adversity. In our schools, teachers who may have received inconsistent professional development prior to partnering with Turnaround now receive it on a weekly basis.

Leadership Engagement
We partner with school leaders to support the development and enhancement of a schoolwide vision and to foster a culture of strong attachment and high expectations for student growth and achievement.

What is Turnaround doing to raise awareness around the impact of adversity on learning?

Turnaround is engaging with and learning from school districts, sharing knowledge at thought leadership events, participating in research and practice-based collaborations, arming policymakers with evidence-based insights and working with news outlets.

Since the organization was founded, what has been the most surprising discovery about the education system?

That there is a regular and recurring pattern of challenges in schools with high concentrations of children growing up in poverty. Adversity causes traumatic stress in children’s lives; they don’t just leave this stress at the schoolhouse door. Stress makes it difficult for students to pay attention and engage. Just one child with behavior and attention challenges can disrupt learning for an entire classroom. If many children present with these kinds of challenges, it can produce a negative culture that shuts down learning across a school.

Science explains that there is a connection between poverty and academic performance – it is key to understanding the problem and also key to the solution. Children living in poverty often endure stress from adverse experiences. Unfortunately, most schools aren’t designed to address the impact of stress on learning. Adversity doesn’t just happen to children, it happens inside them. Stress gets inside their brains and bodies with risks to health and learning. The good news is the brain is malleable. We can use science to address what stress does to children and to schools.

In the ten years you’ve worked with Turnaround, what has stood out the most to you?

I visited a Turnaround partner school in the Bronx shortly after I got involved in the organization. What impressed me the most was seeing the engagement and enthusiasm of the student body, as it showed how effective the program was. The kids were happy, energized, and focused. When you see that, it gives purpose to your efforts. Dr. Pamela Cantor was fixing the public school system.


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