California Educator

December/January 2021

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Page 35 of 67

Expert Insights Jamie Howard, director of the Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institute in New York, offers suggestions on when and how to help students experiencing chronic trauma. When is intervention needed? If you notice functional impairment — students aren't able to focus on schoolwork, make and keep friends, and engage in activities they enjoy — make a referral to a counselor or mental health professional who can do assessment and offer coping strategies. When in doubt, make a referral. How can educators help? It's important to view behavior through a trauma lens. Instead of saying "Why is this student so oppositional?" ask "Why is he behaving this way?" Instead of saying "She's uninterested in school," ask "Why isn't this student as engaged as she used to be?" Rather than presume a student is uninter- ested or noncompliant, consider that something else may be going on. A compassionate response helps draw kids out. Saying something like "I notice you are having trouble concentrating" makes a student more likely to share what's going on, rather than saying " You need to start paying attention." Don't take student behavior personally. It can look like someone is a bad kid, but the truth is they are a good kid who has been through something bad. One assignment asked students to share a core memory and how that event shaped them into who they are today. Students wrote stories of abandonment, abuse and loss. The teachers talked with some students individually, referring some to coun- selors. Students began to trust their teachers, open up and became more vulnerable and empathetic. When they read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, where the pro- tagonist copes with adversity and poverty, students were willing to evaluate what was happening in their own world, discuss positive choices, and create "action plans" to help break generational poverty within their community. Other teachers and administrators have shared personal stories of overcoming hardships. "I always thought adults who worked here had perfect lives," says one student. "But knowing they have gone through hard times — like I have — gives me hope." For more about MacCaskey and Ortiz's strategies, see page 36. Shelter at school: Nick Chandler, social worker at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 School in San Francisco, was instrumental in the school's decision in November 2018 to open a shelter in the gym to help homeless families. The Stay Over Program has continued during the pandemic. "Students who are chronically homeless are not rested," says the United Educators of San Francisco member. " They are under stress, and cortisol levels in their brain are raised, so they are in fight-or-flight mode instead of learning mode." E D I T O R ' S N O T E : This story is part of our series on how educators are handling students with trauma, stemming from natural disasters, poverty, the pandemic and more. Read the series at SPECIAL REPORT Feature "We are seeing a lot more [chronic trauma] in our schools. It certainly impacts [students'] academics and social-emotional well-being." —Giniena Tan, Orange Unified Education Association Continued from p. 33 34

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