Students need trauma informed care, superintendent says

Published 12:37 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In classrooms, the impact of trauma can range from distractibility to difficulty relating to others and managing emotions, Dr. Will Hoffmanl, Tyrrell Schools superintendent, states.

“Teachers may perceive that a student just has behavior problems or is not interested in learning when the reality is that student is simply too overwhelmed to learn,” he explained.

Trauma can lead to behaviors which result in lost instructional time, reduce graduation rates and set our students on the road toward joblessness and poverty. Dr. Hoffman said.

There is innovative work going on in North Carolina called the Compassionate Schools Initiative. This movement is changing educators’ approach to students who have experienced childhood adversity by training staff on the impact of trauma, equipping them with new strategies for helping students build resilience, and emphasizing self-care for staff and students alike.

The Centers for Disease Control has continued the Adverse Childhood Experiences study for two decades. Childhood trauma, stemming from experiences such as abuse, neglect, loss of a loved one and food insecurity, represents the nation’s #1 public health problem, the study concludes.

Trauma victims who do not cope with their experiences in healthy ways increase their risk of depression, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, chronic disease, mental illness and suicide.

Strategies used in Compassionate Schools include practicing unconditional positive regard, holding morning meetings, teaching students calming techniques, and providing students with choice and control when appropriate.

Trauma-informed practices also involve using discipline to restore rather than punish, giving students a structured opportunity to reflect on choices and offer input on fair consequences that would help them achieve their long term goals. This approach empowers students and builds positive relationships between students and staff.

After several years of the Compassionate Schools Initiative in Buncombe County, schools have seen improvement in test scores and attendance as well as reductions in discipline referrals and suspensions, The Charlotte Observer reports, and the shift in culture has benefited all students, not just those who have experienced trauma.