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When trauma touches the classroom: U of I Extension workshops train teachers to offer hope

Published February 19, 2018
Michele Crawford, University of Illinois Extension

URBANA, Ill. - They happened within a week of each other. One during spring break, followed by the other.

Two students who attended Brighton Park Elementary School in Chicago attempted suicide in 2017.

The school of about 450 was shaken and hurting.

“It was really hard for me to process what happened,” recalls Osvaldo De Santiago, assistant principal for the pre-K through eighth-grade school. “I was more in just survival mode, just trying to deal with it.”

Fellow educator Winnie Stevenson identifies with the distress that gripped Brighton. Stevenson, a Spanish teacher to mostly juniors at Chicago’s North Lawndale College Prep High School (NLCP), a charter school of about 677 students, sees painful events all too regularly.

Just last year, 17 students were shot and a student was killed.

“I had one morning where kids ran into the building 20 minutes before school started very upset,” Stevenson says, “They had been fleeing bullets.”

De Santiago and Stevenson, along with their students, are existing under extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances affecting the students’ ability to focus and learn.

They knew they needed help—not only for the students but also for themselves.

Trauma-informed care

From 1995 to 1997, Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente conducted a study that surveyed thousands of people who had suffered abuse and neglect as children. The findings, termed ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, demonstrated the devastating, long-term effects—socially, behaviorally, and emotionally—childhood trauma can have on a person’s life. ACEs has become the basis for what health care professionals now use in trauma-informed care.

Michele Crawford, University of Illinois Extension community health educator, has spent a career working in public health and yet it wasn’t until about five years ago that trauma-informed care began to be regarded as a public health issue.

“It was always something on my personal radar,” Crawford says. “And being an Extension educator that spends so much time in schools, I was hearing the need from schools to have some training for teachers around trauma.”

“They know they’re seeing this in their classrooms among students, but they didn’t know what terminology and strategies to use or how trauma affects learning in the classroom.”

Working under the guidance of Audrey Stillerman, associate director of Medical Affairs for the University of Illinois Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships, Crawford learned how to offer trauma-informed care resources to some of those who needed it most.

Crawford took advantage of the existing Summer Teacher Institute, which is unique to Cook County, to begin offering trauma-informed care retreats to education professionals. The two-day, intensive retreats take place at Extension offices. She also teaches three-hour workshops during the school year at the schools.

Last summer, at one of those retreats, Crawford met De Santiago and Stevenson.

A safe space

Eighty percent of children receive no mental health services, and among those who do, most receive the services at school. Crawford’s workshops are part of an effort to help the educators who come in regular contact with the students identify the mental health signs of trauma.

Crawford recognizes “trauma” is different for everyone, so rather than dwell on the traumatic event, she’s more concerned with the child’s response—ability to cope, especially considering a child’s brain is still developing and maturing. What kind of impact did this event have, is still having? Being able to process these traumatic events can make a huge difference in the students’ ability to thrive and learn.

As part of the training, Crawford shares self-regulation and introspective approaches for educators to introduce to their students. She also helps the educators understand the role of compassion and resiliency when working with students who have been exposed to trauma.

“The focus on the strategies in the classroom is to get children to recognize their emotions, to be able to have words for them. To be able to have conversations when you’re talking about emotions,” Crawford says.  “Give children tools where they can show you what they’re feeling or have the words to tell you what they’re feeling.”

Those strategies that Crawford shares often prove just as useful for the educators. The curriculum she uses is equal parts “compassionate classroom” and teacher self-care.

In many schools, resources are thin and time is limited when educators find themselves suddenly in the throes of crisis. Ultimately, the stress can take its toll.

“I realized I never addressed my own emotions because I didn’t realize it was traumatic for me,” De Santiago admits. “That was a big takeaway for me, taking care of myself so I could take care of the students.”

De Santiago and Stevenson are not new to teaching. Yet, they’re still discovering there’s a great deal left to learn about how to reach their students during what can be some of the darkest moments in their young lives.

“I would just say that this training should be mandatory to get your teacher’s license,” Stevenson says. “Every teacher—even for kids who aren’t living in North Lawndale. If you’re a teacher, you can’t really go through your career without coming across kids who have experienced trauma, and as a professional, we should be prepared to deal with that.”

Can soybean prices maintain recent strength through 2018?

Published February 19, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - Due to dry weather in Argentina, soybean prices showed recent strength despite rising ending-stocks projections for the current marketing year. At 530 million bushels, the current forecast for soybean ending stocks represents a 228 million bushels increase over last marketing-year’s ending stocks.

According to University of Illinois agricultural economist Todd Hubbs, the development of soybean prices over the next year depends on the size of the 2018 U.S. crop and a more robust pace of consumption than produced thus far this marketing year.

“For soybeans, monitoring the pace of consumption occurs on a weekly basis for exports and a monthly basis for the domestic crush,” Hubbs explains. “Current projections for domestic soybean crush during this marketing year sit at 1.95 billion bushels, up 51 million bushels from last year’s crush total. The pace of soybean crush is currently running approximately 2.7 percent above last year’s pace through December.

“Weather issues in Argentina and recent increases in soybean meal prices create the potential for increased crush profitability throughout the rest of the marketing year. This scenario indicates a crush total for this marketing year near or above the USDA projection.”

USDA projections for marketing-year soybean exports decreased 60 million bushels to 2.1 billion bushels. Soybean export projections declined 125 million bushels over the last two World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates reports. Using Census Bureau export estimates through December, and cumulative export inspection totals through Feb. 8, soybean exports for the current marketing year total 1.350 billion bushels. “For the rest of the current marketing year, 25.8 million bushels of soybean exports are required each week to meet the USDA projection,” Hubbs says.

As of Feb. 8, total outstanding sales for the current marketing year totaled 322.4 million bushels, which is below the estimated 749 million bushels required to meet the USDA projection. 

“Current data suggest soybean exports need to pick up the pace to reach the recently lowered USDA projection for this marketing year. The ability to attain the existing projection hinges on the size of the crop in South America and U.S. competitiveness in export markets. Brazil appears set to produce a crop larger than 4.1 billion bushels and continues to get a healthy share of the export business to China. Overall, weak exports and a slightly stronger crush place 2017-18 ending stocks at or slightly higher than the current forecast,” Hubbs says.

Building expectations about 2018 U.S. soybean production starts with planted acreage. Presently, an expectation for an increase in soybean planted acreage exists, Hubbs says. U.S. soybean plantings in 2017 came in at a record 90.1 million acres, a 6.7 million acre increase over 2016. Current USDA long-term baseline projections place 2018 planted acreage at 91.0 million acres. “The lower cost of producing soybeans and the perceived profitability advantage of soybeans over many alternative crops drive expectations of an increase in soybean acreage,” Hubbs adds. “Planted acreage near 91.3 million is projected for 2018. The USDA will survey producers’ planting intentions next month and release an estimate of those intentions in the March 29 Prospective Plantings report.” 

Since 1996, the difference between planted and harvested acreage of soybeans ranged between 587,000 to 1.858 million acres and averaged 1.01 million acres. Under a normal weather scenario, the record level of planted acreage may see the abandonment of approximately 700,000 acres in 2018. Planted acreage of 91.3 million acres leads to a harvested acreage of about 90.6 million acres.

“Yield expectations for the next crop year usually rely on trend yield analysis,” Hubbs says. “Current USDA baseline projections place 2018 soybean yields at 48.4 bushels per acre. Using a conditional trend yield analysis, normal weather during 2018 indicates a trend yield for average U.S. soybeans near 48.5 bushels per acre. Yield at that level would create a 2018 soybean crop of 4.398 billion bushels,” Hubbs says.

A 2018 soybean crop of 4.398 billion bushels combined with the current USDA soybean stock projection of 530 million bushels and imports of 25 million bushels leads to a marketing-year supply of 4.954 billion bushels, 236 million bushels larger than the supply for the current year. To prevent 2018-19 ending stocks from increasing under this scenario, Hubbs says soybean consumption needs to exceed 4.424 billion bushels, 176 million bushels greater than current marketing-year projections. “Increased soybean consumption at this level does require a significant expansion in soybean exports and strength in soybean crush levels. A larger planted acreage or higher yield creates a scenario for greatly expanded ending stocks in the 2018-19 marketing year,” he adds.

“Expectations for the next marketing year include increased soybean acreage, an increase in ending stocks, and lower prices when compared to the current prices witnessed in the market.  The mitigation of a major price decline requires a substantial increase in consumption or lower production in 2018. Neither alternative seems likely at this point. Using the current 2017-18 consumption projection and increased production in 2018, average farm price in the United States for soybeans could fall in a range of $9-$9.20 for the 2018-19 marketing year,” Hubbs says.

News Source:

Todd Hubbs, 217-300-4688

Farming crops with rocks to reduce CO2 and improve global food security

Published February 19, 2018
Steve Long
Researcher Stephen P. Long

URBANA, Ill. – Farming crops with crushed rocks could help to improve global food security and capture CO2 from the atmosphere, a new study has found.

The pioneering research by scientists at the University of Illinois, together with U.S. and international colleagues, suggests that adding fast-reacting silicate rocks to croplands could capture CO2 and give increased protection from pests and diseases while restoring soil structure and fertility.

Stephen Long, Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at U of I and co-author of the study, provides context: “Global warming is a problem that affects everyone on the planet. Scientists generally have done a poor job of getting across the point that the world must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and combine this with strategies for extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to avoid a climate catastrophe.”

David Beerling, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation at the University of Sheffield and lead author of the research, explains the project: “Human societies have long known that volcanic plains are fertile, ideal places for growing crops without adverse human health effects, but until now there has been little consideration for how adding further rocks to soils might capture carbon.

“This study could transform how we think about managing our croplands for climate, food, and soil security. It helps move the debate forward for an under-researched strategy of CO2 removal from the atmosphere - enhanced rock weathering - and highlights supplementary benefits for food and soils. Adopting strategies like this new research could have a massive impact and be adopted rapidly.”

The research, published today (19 February 2018) in Nature Plants, examined amending soils with abundant crushed silicate rocks, like basalt, left over from ancient volcanic eruptions. As these minute rock grains dissolve chemically in soils, they take up carbon dioxide and release plant-essential nutrients.

Critically, enhanced rock weathering works together with existing managed croplands. Unlike other carbon removal strategies being considered, it doesn’t compete for land used to grow food or increase the demand for fresh water. Other benefits include reducing the usage of agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, lowering the cost of food production, increasing the profitability of farms and reducing the barriers to uptake by the agricultural sector.

Crushed silicate rocks could be applied to any soils, but arable land is the most obvious since it is worked and planted annually. It covers approximately 10 percent of the global land area.

Farmers already apply crushed rock in the form of limestone to reverse acidification of soils caused by farming practices, including the use of fertilizers. Managed crops, therefore, have the logistical infrastructure, such as road networks and machinery, needed to undertake this approach at scale. These considerations could make it straightforward to adopt.

“Our proposal is that changing the type of rock, and increasing the application rate, would do the same job as applying crushed limestone but help capture CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it in soils and eventually the oceans,” Long says.

James Hansen from the Earth Institute at Columbia University and co-author of the work, adds, “Strategies for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere are now on the research agenda and we need realistic assessment of these strategies, what they might be able to deliver, and what the challenges are.”

The article, “Farming with crops and rocks to address global climate, food and soil security,” is published in Nature Plants. Researchers participated from U of I, University of Sheffield, Lancaster University, James Cook University, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Columbia University. The work was supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

2018 Agriculture Technology Innovation Summit planned for Feb. 28

Published February 15, 2018

URBANA, Ill. - The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is convening its third annual summit on agriculture technology innovation and opportunities for entrepreneurship on Feb. 28 at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign. 

Creating, developing, and building connections between entrepreneurs, industry, and growers is a key component to implementing innovation in agriculture. This event will include speakers from industry, investors in agriculture, researchers, and examples of agriculture entrepreneurship.

The one-day program will include keynote speakers, panel discussions, and a lunch program. The event is co-hosted by the University of Illinois Research Park, the Office of Corporate Relations, and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

An opening reception will be Tuesday, Feb. 27 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at EnterpriseWorks, 60 Hazelwood Drive, Champaign. The reception is free to attend and open to the entire community.

Anyone who is interested in issues surrounding innovation, entrepreneurship, or commercialization of research is encouraged to attend any portion of this event.

Registration is free and is open at A general agenda as well as topics can also be found at the website. Registration opens at 8 a.m. and the event will conclude at 4 p.m.

Study links fox domestication to gene activity in the pituitary gland

Published February 15, 2018
Anna Kukekova
Anna Kukekova. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A study of foxes offers new insights into the brain changes that occur in wild canids as they become more tame, researchers report. The study links fox domestication to changes in gene activity in the pituitary gland, a brain center that kicks out hormones to regulate various bodily functions, including the stress response.

The study, published in the journal G3: Genes | Genomes | Genetics, adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that domestication alters animals’ reactivity to stress.

“Other studies have seen a relationship between tameness and stress responses in animals,” said Jessica Hekman, the first author of the paper who worked on the study as a graduate student in the laboratory of University of Illinois animal sciences professor Anna Kukekova. Hekman is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “In particular, the characteristic reduction in fearfulness of domesticated animals is closely linked to reductions in blood levels of ACTH, a hormone released by the anterior pituitary gland that, among other things, drives the stress response.”

To get a better view of how this might occur, the researchers looked at gene activity in the anterior pituitary glands of foxes in a breeding program at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, designed to study the evolutionary processes associated with domestication. They compared six foxes selectively bred for tameness and six foxes selectively bred for aggression.

“Previous studies have found that ACTH levels in the anterior pituitary do not differ between tame and aggressive fox strains,” Kukekova said. “This means that differential expression of the gene encoding ACTH may not cause the differences seen in blood levels of this hormone, and some other mechanism is reducing ACTH in the bloodstream of tame foxes.”

“Our analysis revealed that the differences between tame and aggressive foxes may lie in cells in the anterior pituitary gland, which can change their shapes to communicate with one another about when it’s time to release stress hormones,” Hekman said. “Their pituitary glands may produce the same amount of stress hormones but be less efficient at getting those hormones into the bloodstream.”

“If confirmed, our finding could help explain why tame foxes are not stressed so easily as foxes that have not been selected for tameness,” Kukekova said.

The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported this research.