Center for Educational Transformation

We Can! Testing a Trauma-Informed Care Training in Iowa Elementary Schools

Armeda Wojciak

Armeda Wojciak

Carol Smith

Carol Smith




ABSTRACT: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)--including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, a parent with a mental illness, separation from a parent as a result of incarceration or death, domestic violence, parental substance use, and divorce (Felitti et al., 1998)--impact children early in their development, specifically their health and educational outcomes. In Iowa, an estimated 33% of all children will experience 1 or 2 ACEs before the age of 18, with 12% experiencing 3 or more as measured by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (Sacks, Murphey, & Moore, 2014).

Blodgett (2012) demonstrated that ACEs exposure is a principal predictor of behavioral and attendance problems at school and the second biggest predictor of academic failure. Elementary school provides an opportunity, as a universal system that serves the majority of children, to offer trauma-informed care practices to students to improve student success.

This project will test We Can!: An Educator's Guide to Trauma-Informed Practice, a trauma-informed intervention, across multiple elementary schools in Eastern Iowa. The project PIs developed We Can! with an Iowa elementary school principal and school counselor. The intervention will be delivered to all teachers and paraprofessionals in all five elementary schools in College Community School District.

We will conduct a quasi-experimental repeated measures study. This project will employ qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the influence of the trainings on 1) increasing awareness and knowledge of trauma and trauma-informed practices in the elementary setting, 2) improving school climate and culture, and 3) decreasing undesirable student behaviors. Results will be disseminated locally and nationally with implications for teachers, school counselors, school administrators, and policymakers. This project will continue to build the foundation of an evidence-based intervention that can be implemented in all Iowa schools.


This April 24, 2017 article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette's Iowa Ideas magazine discusses this project and quotes project graduate assistant Jan Powers: "Building resiliency against adverse childhood experiences"