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Over 90% of our graduates complete high school within four years, in a city with an on-time high school graduation rate that hovers around 65%.

A Synopsis of the 20th Annual Gesu Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education

On November 3, 2017, Gesu School held its 20th Annual Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education. As a national model for inner-city education, Gesu School remains at the forefront of identifying new ways to better serve students across the country and sharing these key learnings. The symposium has been a time-honored tradition for that purpose.

Gesu School’s 2017 Symposium, Our Kids Are Not Broken: Empowering Traumatized Youth, examined best practices surrounding the impact of trauma on our students. This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a nationally recognized expert in the field of child development, presented on his extensive research and practice in utilizing strength and resilience to confront the underlying effects of stress and trauma on youth.

Dr. Ginsburg’s dynamic keynote explained the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on the brain and behavior and focused on the significant role that caring adults play in helping children who have experienced trauma to develop resilience, strength, and positive coping strategies. He emphasized, “The only way kids move forward is if they know they are loved and cared about.”

Dr. Ginsburg inspired the audience of 300 to “re-frame our expectations of teenagers and see them in hope and possibility” while “honoring their intelligence” and setting high expectations. “One key practice is changing your lens from ‘what’s wrong with you” to ‘what happened to you,’” highlighted Dr. Ginsburg. He demonstrated strategies for communicating effectively with teens by listening and empowering them to gain control.

A panel of educational and community leaders then joined Dr. Ginsburg to provide practical expertise on how trauma-informed pedagogy can foster a more productive learning environment.

Rebecca Hilgen Bryan, Wellness Center Director at UrbanPromise Ministries in Camden, spoke to the importance of “integrating mindfulness practice” and “empower[ing] youth with the tools they need to succeed.” She noted, “Trauma occurs in relationships, but healing can only occur in relationships.”

Executive Director of Hopeworks ‘N Camden, Dan Rhoton, emphasized infusing trauma-informed practices at every level within an organization. He claimed, “Self-care is an organizational team effort.” He encouraged adults to share their common humanity with youth and listen in return: “Thin[k] about your own experience, your own humanity. And then, on Monday, don’t leave your humanity in the car. […] Share that. And let young people listen to that. […] They will remember that moment when their teacher was a human being.”

Jeff Sparagana, Retired Superintendent of Pottstown School District, spoke to his experience embedding trauma-informed practices across the community at the systemic level, including “the importance of training staff in self-care,” such as positive self-talk and procedural self-talk, and building “meaningful relationships with colleagues, with children, with students, parents.”

Ronald W. Whitaker II, Assistant Professor of Education at Cabrini University, spurred the audience to consider how they can be proactive in building community, creating “safe places,” and “caring authentically.” He noted, “If we really care about the community […], then we have to start doing true social justice work. […] How are you defining social justice for yourself?”

Rev. Stephen Thorne, Gesu Board Member, Pastor of St. Martin de Porres Church, and Chaplain and Adjunct with Neumann University, moderated a thoughtful, productive dialogue.

Gesu School hopes that attendees continue this critical conversation in their schools and communities. In the spirit of the symposium, please find resources recommended by our panelists. For more information on Dr. Ginsburg’s work and related resources, visit his website:

Watch video footage of Dr. Ginsburg’s keynote and the panel discussion on Gesu School’s YouTube Channel.  

See more event photos on Gesu School’s Facebook page.

Photos by Edward Savaria 

Video footage by Jeffry E. Soriano 

We Thank Our 2017 Sponsors!

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Always seeking to improve education for all of America’s inner-city children, Gesu School launched our Annual Symposium on Transforming Inner-City Education in 1997 to tackle tough issues in inner-city education. From our first moderator, the late Tim Russert, to outstanding panelists such as Stedman Graham, Joe Klein, and Paul Tough, the annual gathering brings together leading thinkers to stimulate productive conversation and energize us for our work in the field.

For more information about the symposium, contact Sarah Stirzel Cuzzolina, Director of Annual Giving, at 215-763-9077 or