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A Trauma-Informed Planning Approach

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Sayre High School

Fall '23 Studio

Kyle Arbuckle
Sofia Fasullo
Roshini Ganesh
Samiriddhi Khare

Frances Murray
Emmy Park
Mimi Tran

Why We Are Doing This Project

   For this project, we were presented with a pressing issue: how can we help Sayre become an anchor institution in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood? We sought to assist internal and external communication flows regarding existing resources. Our resource guide is meant to buttress work being done by a Landscape Architecture studio looking to improve the physical conditions of the gravel courtyard in the middle of the school.

   This work comes at a time when the city of Philadelphia is being adversarial toward teenagers. In the past year, the city has passed a curfew, restricted unsupervised access to the mall after 2 pm, and banned ski masks with threat of a fine up to $2,000. [2] Many businesses have policies of not allowing anyone to enter their business with a backpack on. With only a few green spaces surrounding Sayre, students are left without third spaces in a city that is criminalizing them because of the actions of others.

   We are not inventing any resources, we are just amplifying work that is already being done. We ultimately hope this information hub can contribute to Sayre students’ dreams beyond high school with resources on job training, advocacy tools, and college information.

[1]  Anne McCormick, “Philadelphia Ski Mask Ban Becomes Law: What You Need to Know - WHYY,” December 15, 2023.

[2] “100 Philadelphia Schools to Dismiss Early Tuesday, Wednesday Because of Extreme Heat,” August 30, 2022.

Sayre’s Local Context

   Sayre High School is located in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood, a short distance away from two of the most prominent acts of racialized violence by the city, the site of the 1985 MOVE bombing and of the 2020 murder of Walter Wallace Jr. by Philadelphia Police. Overpolicing persists in the area as Cobbs Creek residents represent a disproportionate number of those stopped or arrested by police compared to the city as a whole. More directly affecting Sayre High School, the School District of Philadelphia currently only spends 6 percent of its $4 billion budget on public high schools like Sayre.

   While Cobbs Creek is a lush park just to the west of Sayre High School, the area directly surrounding Sayre lacks adequate green space. Our analysis found that while there is greenery surrounding Sayre, it is more often shrubbery, rather than tree cover or grass, which does comparatively less to mitigate heat. The area around Sayre is 7 degrees hotter than the rest of Philadelphia. [2] The landscape studio’s courtyard project seeks to address by including greenery in its plans.


Sayre High School - close up of the courtyard​

Trauma-Informed Planning

   We entered this project with a mantra of not reenacting further trauma. We had to contend with the idea that we are part of the elite, Ivy League institution that is hoarding resources from communities like those at and surrounding Sayre High School. We also wanted to be cognizant of the history of racialized violence and poverty in the area, and intended to do no harm. A major aim of this studio was to blend some key principles of social work with city planning, in particular the two principles of a “strengths-based approach” and “centering lived experience.” [3]

   We sought to focus on building up the strengths of Sayre, rather than focusing on its difficulties. Further, we did not want to be prescriptive with our project and lose focus of what students and staff at Sayre expressed as their desires.

   Lastly, almost one-half of Sayre High School’s student body has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a federal program designed to address the needs of students experiencing severe mental health challenges or intellectual disability. We could not ignore that these students often experience trauma in an even harsher way than others, and the heat of the school and the area could only exacerbate this issue. We hopeed to complete this project alongside Sayre, not for them.

Steps to Engagement
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[3] Huiting Xie, “Strengths-Based Approach for Mental Health Recovery,” Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences 7, no. 2 (2013): 5–10.

Conducting outreach sessions at Sayre High School

Feedback from Engagement

   A key part of developing this guide was engaging with the people of Sayre High—students, teachers, administrators, and more. We needed to understand what the community thinks of their school and what they hope their school could be. This is only the beginning of the engagement with the Sayre – as the school-community plan progresses, planners should build upon what we’ve heard to create a plan guided by the community itself. 

   Following is a summary of some of what we heard during our engagement process: 

Feedback from Teachers & Administrators


Feedback from Students



    Our recommendations for Sayre are split into three categories that closely follow the received from out outreach, including for school infrastructure, staff support, and student support. This strengths-based approach is intended to build on what people love about Sayre to elevate the school and the community that supports it. 

Recommendations for School Infrastructure


Recommendations for Staff Support


Recommendations for Student Support

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