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TiDEvalK12 Research Received EDRA CORE Award!

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

is thrilled to announce

our recently released study,

has been awarded a

Certification of Research Excellence

by the

This tool is the first of its kind--an evidence-based tool to facilitate interior design renovations and new builds of K-12 schools! It can be used to evaluate the physical space and identify changes that can lower the stress levels of students and staff. The tool is grounded in the Substance and Mental Health Services Administrations' guidance for a trauma-informed approach, the Trauma-informed Design (TiD) Society's framework, and feedback from almost 100 educators, school administrators, and designers across the country.

This project, which was supported by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation and had institutional review board (IRB) approval, brought together educators and designers to bridge the gap in their understanding and areas of expertise and identify design impacts on educational outcomes. The Society partnered with nine schools nationwide, to evaluate their spaces and gather information about when and where students and staff experience the most dysregulation, and used this information to inform the creation of an evaluation tool for schools and designers.


EDRA Certificate of Research Excellence (EDRA CORE) is a professional certification that recognizes and celebrates rigorous and innovative practice-based environmental design research studies.

CORE serves as a bridge between the design industry and the larger environmental design research community. Through CORE, design and research practitioners explore new topics, methods, and findings with the most brilliant minds in the field. Celebration of research projects and elevating the bar for practice-based research are byproducts of participation in this community.

Applications to CORE undergo a rigorous, double-blind review by an interdisciplinary panel of experts. Evaluations are based on two main dimensions: (1) Research Rigor: the use of new and/or recognized research approaches in research design, methods, and tools; and, (2) Research Impact: pushing the boundaries of practice through impact on stakeholders and the design industry.

CORE Stands for Excellence

As the program name suggests, CORE is committed to excellence. Research rigor and a study’s value to the industry and project stakeholders are key components of what defines a CORE-worthy study— but EDRA also finds merit in those studies that advance the practice of design research.

CORE’s unique evaluation framework:

  • Identifies practice-based environmental design research that is not only rigorous, but also offers measurable value, meets industry challenges, and advances design thinking;

  • Recognizes the importance of design research in practice;

  • Provides a compass to guide designers, researchers, organizations, and manufacturers in their design research and evidence-based design efforts; and

  • Builds on EDRA’s tradition of inquiry, reflection, collaboration, and commitment to innovation.

Trauma's Impact on Education

Traumatic stress can cause lasting brain changes, impact memory, and alter biochemistry levels. This can lead to dysregulated nervous systems, impaired ability to modulate emotional highs or lows outside the “Window of Tolerance.” When students’ stress responses result in hypoarousal, behaviors are misinterpreted as lazy or unengaged, while those experiencing hyperarousal can be seen as disruptive, willfully disobedient, threatening, aggressive, or even dangerous. Schools’ response to these behaviors often escalate into harsh discipline measures, including seclusion, restraint, suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests.

Additional responses to traumatic events include difficulty concentrating, rumination, racing thoughts, time/space distortion, difficulty making decisions, and suicidal thinking. These then create barriers to the higher-level rational thinking required to engage in schoolwork. Studies demonstrate that individuals exposed to toxic stress exhibit “problems in cognitive control and learning.”

If youth are not provided both a safe environment and the skills to reduce their stress levels, they will not be able to access educational opportunities provided by their schools. Trauma-informed design becomes essential when looking at school spaces such as classrooms, regulation rooms, availability of outdoor spaces, and even hallways and bathrooms. The composition of the interior environment has the capability of transforming students’ emotional and behavioral health and supporting better learning outcomes.

Disproportionate Impact on Marginalized Communities

Data indicates a high prevalence of ACEs in marginalized communities. People with disabilities are more likely to have experienced ACEs than the general population. There is also a dose-response relationship between ACEs and children with special health care needs: 14.3% of children with no ACEs had special health care needs, increasing to 43.5% among children whose parents reported 4 or more ACEs.

There are racial disparities as well. Reports of ACEs varied significantly by race/ethnicity and household income. At 36.2%, American Indian/Alaska Native families reported the highest percentage of children with 2 or more ACEs, while the lowest was reported by Asian families (6.0%). Across race/ethnicity groups, the percentage of children with 2 or more ACEs decreased as household income increased. The results also show that Black children were:

  • Reported to have higher ACE scores than white children; and

  • Over-represented among children with 2 or more ACEs.

Additionally, more than 70% of LGBTQ students reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness within the past week, and only 26% always feel safe in their classrooms. LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to attempt suicide, use illegal drugs, or experience homelessness, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and feelings of isolation. Those who are gender nonconforming are at increased risk for childhood abuse and school victimization.

In addition to being more at risk for trauma, students from marginalized communities are also more likely to incur disproportionately harsh school discipline. Suspension and expulsion rates for BIPOC students—especially BIPOC girls—are significantly higher than for white students. Students with disabilities receive twice as many out-of-school suspensions than those without disabilities, and BIPOC students with disabilities are disproportionately physically restrained and placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement. Black students represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest, despite making up only 16% of student enrollment.

Leveraging Design

The space in which students learn can communicate safety and promote secure attachments with teachers, or it can symbolize lack of dignity and agency, encouraging re-traumatization. With an evidence-based TiD approach, schools can create environments which help students remain within their window of tolerance, and ideally expand this tolerance zone. The window of tolerance is the arousal zone that allows a person to be at an optimal state of alertness, neither over- nor under- stimulated.

Trauma-informed design is an emerging field, with initial conceptual frameworks being proposed by designers and other TiD practitioners. As more designers apply this approach, the need for a scalable, adaptable set of design imperatives becomes essential. Different people, cultures, environmental context, places, and spaces require varying TiD design imperatives. Existing design approaches, such as: inclusive, sensory, therapeutic, resilient, salutogenic, and biophilic design inform the TiD approach.

The first step in applying trauma-informed design guidelines is the ability to evaluate the space appropriately. Using feedback from designers and architects, we identified stressors and potential triggers in the participating school's spaces, which informed the creation of the TiDEvalK12. Facilitating calm, yet alert, behaviors through interventions in the physical design of schools, will support K-12 educators to apply an integrated trauma-informed approach. Designers are key partners in developing K-12 spaces that facilitate the educational approach to developing safe, caring, and effective environments.

Bridging the Gap

The TiDEvalK12 provides a lens through which users can better understand the relationship between spatial and interior design elements and student experiences and behaviors. In order to achieve trauma-informed design, it is necessary to bridge communication between educators and designers. Both groups bring valuable experience and knowledge, but cannot be fully understood without a common language. The tool provides an opportunity to create greater insight into both common and unique needs of each school and the ways in which designers can help.

TiD Society's Hypothesis & Next Steps

The Trauma-informed Design Society hypothesizes that evidence-based, trauma-informed designed schools can reduce stress levels of staff and students, resulting in:

  • Less dysregulation;

  • A reduction in harsh disciplinary measures; and

  • Increased learning.

Students should be more able to self-regulate, and would have a place where they can safely do so, reducing the need for discipline measures. Over time, students' academic performance should increase, as they are more able to access the classroom material.

encourages schools to reach out

for help in applying the tool

and interpreting its results.

Please reach out with any feedback, questions, or concerns about the tool as you apply it in your community. It is our intention to use such feedback to continue refining the instrument over time. Please also stay tuned for an eventual TiDEvalK12 toolkit, which would provide evidence-based design recommendations to address areas of concern identified by the tool.

Eventually, we would also love to partner with one or more schools for a longitudinal study. We would start by collecting baseline data on academic performance and use of school discipline, including removal from the classroom, isolation, detention, physical restraint, suspension, arrest/school security/resource officer involvement, and expulsion. We would then provide an evaluation of their school environment using the TiDEvalK12 tool, and work with the school to help them implement recommended changes. Following the changes, we would follow:

  • The academic performance of the students, to see if it improves; and

  • The use of school discipline, to see if it decreases.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us, the Trauma-informed Design Society is here to help you create learning spaces that sooth the nervous system in a revolutionary way!

The Trauma-informed Design Society is a transdisciplinary team with a focus on turning research into practice, and back into research. Located across the United States, the Society merges the co-founders’ extensive experience in human services and interior design with an understanding of trauma science, to help organizations implement a trauma-informed approach in their services and create stress-reducing physical spaces.

Project Team

J. Davis Harte, PhD, was this project’s principle investigator and the Director and Faculty of the Design for Human Health master’s program at the Boston Architectural College. She is WELL AP credentialed—a health and well-being credential that denotes expertise in the WELL Building Standard.

Co-leader of Global Birth Environment Design Network (GBEDN) and co-founder of the Trauma informed Design Society, she is educator, advocate, practitioner, and speaker bridging trauma-informed designed spaces, children’s places, and also birth environments with brain, neuroscientific and environmental psychological knowledge. Davis holds a PhD in Health from the University of Technology Sydney, investigating “‘The Childbirth Supporter Study’: Video-ethnographic examination of the physical birth unit environment.” Her Master’s degree in Design for Human Environments (interiors) investigated preschool children’s attentional behaviors.

Janet Roche, MDS, Janet Roche is a leader in designing for health and wellness and is faculty at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) where she has taught Environmental Health, Human Conditions + Design, and, currently, Biophilia. She also sits as the BAC’s current Chair of the Alumni Advisory Council.

She owns Janet Roche Designs, LLC, which specializes in universal design, and the design of environments for those who are aging in place or seeking accommodations for other human conditions such as physical, psychological, or cognitive differences. Her company believes that they can find real design solutions to the human condition. In 2019, she launched her own podcast, Inclusive Designers™ (IDP) where she is a host, co-producer, and writer. As she is a longtime advocate for dignity in design, IDP is a collaborative forum for designers to share creative ideas for different human conditions for inclusivity, equality, and diversity.

In addition to her Masters in Design for Human Health from BAC, Janet holds a B.S. in Social Work from Boston University and a Certificate of Business and Management from Harvard University Extension School. She was named Woman of the Year in 2011 by the National Association of Professional Women. She sits on a variety of boards and committees. She is active in her hometown of Boston, is a Red Sox fan, and you can find her on the slopes of Killington, Vermont in the winter, where she is a volunteer ski instructor for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports with the Professional Ski Instructors of America.

Christine Cowart, MA, is a dually-certified trauma professional and human services policy analyst, focusing on justice systems and family services. Her career includes working as a legislative analyst in two states, analyzing programs for the New York State Division of Parole, and serving as a contract and grant specialist for the Vermont Department for Children and Families, where she co-chaired a racial equity workgroup. She is currently the policy manager for the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Christine is married, and an adoptive mother of two children with traumatic backgrounds. In her spare time, she volunteers as a member of her local school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion committee and as an adaptive sports instructor.

Her experiences have led her to develop an understanding of trauma, its possible effects, and what can be done to change the story. Christine founded Cowart Trauma Informed Partnership to help others implement trauma-informed practices.

Recognizing that the physical spaces in which we spend time can impact our perceptions, stress levels, and ability to regulate our emotional responses and behaviors, Christine joined forces with Davis and Janet and cofounded the Trauma-informed Design Society.

Molly Pierce, OTR/L, is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) for 35 years, with specialties in neurodevelopment and sensory processing/integration. She is currently working as a school based OT supporting K-12 students and schools in developing sensory spaces for all students. She holds a Masters degree in Arts Management and certificate in Nonprofit Management, with focus on arts and the design for human health. Molly served as an adjunct faculty for 23 years, with the University of Oregon’s Health & Science University's Child Development and Rehabilitation Center, offering graduate-level instruction to University of Oregon Special Education and Early Intervention programs. She has expanded to include community cultural development and collaborative work, through art and the creation of sensory spaces that support health. Molly focuses on thoughtful and innovative design of environments, through the lens of sensory processing that support all abilities.

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