A new program called HEARTS- Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools—has been making headway in San Francisco, which has seen a drop of 89% of suspensions within its schools.

Children that are found to be dealing with trauma, violence at home, separation anxiety and the like, are found to be doing a lot better under the HEARTS care program. With therapists trained in how to deal with those battling trauma, along with psychologists training teachers and other school staff to create a safer and more supportive learning environment for children, they have seen a rapid decline in outbursts and violence.

“If a student starts to lose it, the teacher can give the kid a pass to go to the Wellness Center,” says Joyce Dorado, direct of UCSF HEARTS. “The kid signs in, circles emotions on a ‘feelings’ chart (to help the person who staffs the center understand how to help the child). The staff member starts a timer. The kid gets five to 10 minutes. The kid can sit on the couch with a blanket, listen to music, squeeze rubber balls to relieve tension and anger, or talk to the staff member. Kids who use the room calm down so that they can go back to class. It’s not a punishment room. It’s not a time-out room. It’s not an in-school suspension room. It’s a room where you feel better going out than when you went in.”

In the state of California, almost 5% of its elementary school students were suspended or expelled during the 2010-2011 school year. Students were suspended for fighting, yelling or other inappropriate behavior. There were 80 suspensions in 2008-2009. And although suspensions increased for four years to 150 in 2011-2012, last year they dropped 89%, to only 17.

So far this year, only three students have been suspended.