Author Archives: Tracy Costigan

Help Communities Prepare for, Withstand, and Recover From Disaster

Mar 7, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

A $1.4 million funding opportunity is available for community leaders, organizations, and researchers to help us understand the combination of factors that lead to resilient communities.

A home destroyed by a tornado.

Nearly six months ago three catastrophic hurricanes devastated parts of the United States and her territories, and the lives of millions of people in America. Although they were all Category 4+ storms, the impact and aftermath have been markedly different. While the recovery is ongoing, many communities in Texas and Florida are finally returning to normal life: schools are open, transportation systems are running, and homes are being rebuilt. By stark contrast, in parts of Puerto Rico, people are still struggling to survive without clean water and electricity.

What accounts for these differences in recovery? There is plenty of conjecture: people point to the level of damage inflicted, soundness of infrastructure, the condition of the local economy, as well as institutionalized discrimination.

Disasters also come in many forms—natural disasters, to be sure, but also chronic poverty, broad lack of access to health care, and other hardships a community faces. When these adverse factors co-exist, recovery is exponentially harder.

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Three Reasons to Consider Later School Start Times

Feb 8, 2018, 2:00 PM, Posted by Tracy Costigan, Tracy Orleans

Research suggests more sleep for teens could yield significant health and academic benefits. To achieve these benefits, schools across the nation are experimenting with later start times for middle and high schools.

Student overwhelmed with homework.

“I fell asleep on the bus and usually wasn’t really awake until after first period ended,” says Andrew Schatzman, whose school day in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County ("Fairfax") used to begin with a 6:30 a.m. pickup time. When district leaders moved the high school start time to 8:10 a.m., it made a big difference in his life. “He’s still a teenager, so nothing is easy, but now he’s ready to go,” says Andrew’s mom, Liz. “I’m awake enough to do what I have to do in first period,” adds Andrew.

Thanks to this change Andrew starts the school day rested and ready to learn, but millions of U.S. students do not share that experience.

Nearly half (46%) of the U.S. high schools that begin classes before 8 a.m. are filled with teenagers who have not received the 8+ hours of sleep that young people need. As adolescent brains develop, sleep patterns change. It’s a normal, natural occurring physiological milestone. Sleep researchers call it the development of an evening-type circadian phase preference. The rest of us call it becoming a night owl.

Regardless of the terminology, the result is the same: teenagers stay up late. They do not fall asleep sooner if school starts earlier. Instead, they get sleep-deprived.

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Can Learning Social Skills in School Pay Off Beyond the Classroom?

Sep 5, 2017, 1:00 PM, Posted by Mark Greenberg, Tracy Costigan

Social emotional skills can help students set goals for themselves and build positive relationships with peers. They can also lead to long-term societal benefits that extend far beyond the individual child.

Students use an interactive screen to communicate feelings.

At an elementary school in the Menominee Nation in Wisconsin, the school day starts in an unusual way. Before they do anything else, students sit down at a classroom computer and select the face that best matches how they feel that morning.

If they’re feeling upbeat, they pick a green, smiling face. If they’re upset about something, there’s a red sad face. And if they feel somewhere in the middle there’s a yellow neutral face. This exercise helps these students develop self-awareness and emotional management skills. It also helps teachers recognize which students are having a tough day and where they might need help.

Ryan Coffey, a teacher and counselor at the Wisconsin school, calls this simple check-in an incredible tool that “can change the whole day.”

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Helping Young People in Crisis, One Text at a Time

Feb 16, 2017, 8:00 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

Crisis Text Line uses technology to help adolescents struggling with issues like bullying and anxiety. Now, researchers are using data compiled through this effort to better understand and address patterns of adolescent mental health needs within communities.

A teenage girl resting her cell phone against her face.

It began with a shocking text message that left the staff at DoSomething.org deeply shaken.

The non-profit organization was originally created to promote youth volunteer and social action opportunities. It uses texting—the primary way in which teens communicate—to send thousands of daily messages alerting members to clothing drives, health fairs, park clean-ups, and more. Responses have been common. In addition to the usual sign-up requests, texters have also sought advice on how to handle a bully at school or help a friend struggling with addiction.

But as DoSomething’s CEO Nancy Lublin explained in a memorable TED Talk, one particular message from an anonymous girl changed their world.

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What’s the Formula for Community Resilience?

Aug 1, 2016, 9:22 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

A $10 million grant opportunity, designed to benefit the Gulf of Mexico region, will advance the science and practice of fostering healthy communities that can prepare for, withstand and recover from adverse events—and even thrive afterwards.

A man fishes at dawn.

Few of us have forgotten the searing images of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, especially how the great American City of New Orleans was left in shambles—a testament to longstanding social and economic problems that preceded the storm and a nation that was unprepared after it occurred.

In the decade that followed Katrina—one that included the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history—recovery across the region has varied, but there have been several success stories. For example, New Orleans, that soulful town, overhauled its health and public health systems, improved access to nutritious food and fitness activities, and put new emphasis on issues of equity and poverty. The work is far from done, but the transformation was sufficient to earn a Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 2013.

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