Educating The Educators On Childhood Trauma
As the opioid crisis continues to rupture families, the emotional impact on children is widespread. In some school districts, mental health experts are training teachers, school nurses, and administrators to better manage the trauma faced by students, in order to help them cope and learn.
- Mollie Greeley - Guidance counselor for Woodland Heights Elementary School in Laconia, and liaison for Families in Transition for the Laconia School District.
- Dave Levesque - Principal of Pleasant Street Elementary School in Laconia who helped create the We Connect mentorship program that supports children who have experienced trauma. He has also been a Vice Principal at the high school level.
- Lauren Romanauskas - School nurse at Hudson Memorial Middle School.
- Cassie Yackley - Psychologist with the Center for Behavioral Health Innovation at Antioch University of New England, who specializes in childhood trauma and is working with the N.H. Department of Education to implement trauma-informed services in schools across the state.
How does trauma or stress at home impact student behavior and performance at school?
We're definitely seeing an increase in physical symptoms in children as a direct result of the stress that they have at home. Often times, we have kids that come in with headaches, or they're just really tired. And when you talk to them, they were up all night with a parent or they had a ton of sleep disruption due to personal things that are happening at home.
And so, they're not getting the support at home that they need. And they're looking to the schools to help meet they're physical and emotional needs.
One of the things I've seen is just an increase in really scary behaviors, challenging behaviors such as hurting themselves, hurting others, threatening teachers.
We're definitely seeing some changes with the current opioid crisis. We see a whole host of things happening, from students who are struggling to be successful in school, with their learning, and students who are struggling [with] self-regulation. And then [they face] some real systemic challenges at home. There are lots of students living with different types of situations that they weren't before, and a lot of instability.
I would say for certain that in the past year especially, I have had more families who [are homeless and] have nowhere to go. At the end of the day, they have used all the resources available in our amazing community that's trying to support people and they literally are ending the day without anywhere to go. They have been sleeping on couches, but there are no couches left, and the shelters are full.
How do you learn about the trauma students have been exposed to?
Dave Levesque -
We rely on our community agencies [such as] DCYF, the police, and the fire department, but a lot of most useful information actually comes from the students... Relationships are key for this part of the process, and having a trusting adult. And what we're finding is that our nurse and our guidance counselor are two more of those trusted adults.
Is it possible to create healthier neural-emotional psychological pathways through having somebody you love and trust at school?
Cassie Yackley -
Yes. It's amazing what we know now, and if you look at the factors that contribute to our resiliency, the other side of adversity, we know two things... One is the presence of at least one supportive relationship, and educators are in a beautiful position to be that kind of relationship. And the other piece is a sense of hope, the ability to feal hopeful about our future. Primary, that happens in the context of a relationship in which we feel safe, and in which we know that somebody has "unconditional positive regard for us."