Dr. Ben Springer, administrator and nationally certified school psychologist, recently posed the question to educators across the country, “Have you ever tried to do your most rigorous work with a panic attack?” We can think in terms of the most basic of human physiological states: fight or flight. As adults, we develop coping mechanisms to see us through experiences and are surrounded by a network and lifetime of peers who offer us support and reprieve. Opening the doors to our schools’ casts light on a different story.
The 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health said that 46 percent of American children have experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) and more than 20 percent have two or more ACEs. The Center on the Developing Child defines trauma as an experience of serious adversity or terror, and it leaves residual footprints in the hallways of our schools. Just ask teachers. It’s not enough to say kids are stressed out. History and the study of trauma has taught us that unaddressed trauma continues on as a thread in that individual’s life, and the lives of those around them.
We have a nation of students in fight or flight mode surrounded by hundreds of peers in high-pressure and high stakes environments. Students are more disconnected interpersonally than they’ve ever been and their reply to trauma is often seen in behavior. From elementary to high school our kids are reacting with anger, hyperactivity, apathy, and without self-regulation. Naturally, these responses prove to be barriers when asked to be their best, create, or collaborate with peers. Luckily, most of the paths to healing begin with simple tools like time, and intention.
School Psychologists are turning their attention to offer whole school trainings to enable staff at every level to see the roots of a student’s trauma and create intentional plans to develop the necessary connections to then help the students. In identifying these needs, schools are able to implement trauma informed conversations and programs to seriously level with their students. The impeding quicksand students find themselves in is swapped with a controlled environment of compassion, and one with the social and coping tools to persist in the midst of any experience.
It’s encouraging to see professionals all over the country devoting brainpower and resources to whole-school mental health. The conversations we are having in our communities could easily support these efforts by asking how we can offer continuity and support to our own students at home, and to our classroom teachers and principals as they devote time, personnel, and resources. In our efforts to raise up this next generation, it’s no longer a question of if there is trauma. It’s how much and what will our response be?
Kira Hawkins served as an educator for ten years, teaching children in Texas, Zambia, and remotely, in China. As a teacher she focused on intervention methods for both academic and emotional support of all students, as well as dyslexia specialty training. You can find her and her two boys in her bamboo jungle, or planting heirlooms of just about anything. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.