Here at Building 21, we aspire to be innovative in our approach to behavioral health. Over this past year, we have consolidated our efforts in Restorative Practices, Trauma-Informed Care, and Cultural Competency into a model which we call the “TriChange Model”.

Our new tripartite model builds on our core design principle – relationships are the foundation. Embracing our diverse Building 21 community of students, families, and educators, we firmly believe that healthy relationships include the following facets:

  • An understanding, awareness, and mutual respect for the culture of others and the paramount role it plays in their lives;

  • An understanding of trauma and its impact on the lives of all community members;

  • And an understanding that establishing healthy relationships is not a finite process and we must constantly seek ways to proactively build positive relationships and repair harm to restore damaged ones.

These three domains – Restorative Practices, Trauma-Informed Care, and Cultural Competency – are inextricably linked and equally necessary to create a healthy school culture that effectively meets the needs of all its stakeholders.

Restorative Practices is a social science that studies how to build social capital and achieve social discipline through participatory learning and decision-making.

Restorative Practices uses formal and informal processes to proactively build relationships and a sense of community, as a preventative measure to conflict and harm. When harm is done and relationships are subsequently damaged, the positive social capital established prior is leveraged to repair harm and restore relationships. The informal and formal aspects of Restorative Practices operate on a continuum that includes, affective statements and questions, small impromptu conversations, circles (proactive and responsive) and formal restorative conferences. Restorative Practices is the lifeblood of everything we do at Building 21; it’s the fiber that connects everything else we do together.  

Cultural competency requires one to be aware of their own cultural identity, biases, beliefs, history, ideology, norms, attitudes, and behaviors and how these variables intersect with those of the population they serve.

It requires all school staff to have a basic level of understanding of the historical and cultural backgrounds of our students and their families, the past and present challenges they face, their inner-strengths, and their psychology. As individuals and as an institution, we must be able to ask:

  • How does one’s level of cultural competency and racial identity development impact ability to effectively serve our student population?
  • How does it affect communication?
  • What barriers does it create?
  • What assets does it create?

At Building 21, these are just a modicum of the questions we ask one another in our Personal Learning Communities (PLCs), which is one of our primary vehicles for discussion and planning all things related to cultural competency in our school.

At Building 21, we understand that trauma is universal.

It doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, socioeconomic class, or religion. It affects everyone, students and teachers alike. And it is experienced personally and vicariously.

Traumatized students lead to traumatized staff. Traumatized staff lead to traumatized students. Traumatized staff and students create a traumatized school. We work diligently at Building 21 to break the cycle of trauma by proactively providing therapeutic supports and psycho-educational resources to all stakeholders in our school community.

David SparrowDirector of Behavior Health, Building 21 Philadelphia
This guest blog was written by David Sparrow. For more information about our Tri-Change model, please contact David by email.