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Program aims to alleviate child trauma

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Two Edgecombe County Public Schools are now participating in a pilot program designed to help school teachers and staff become more sensitive to the traumas many children face.

Teachers at Patillo Middle School and Stocks Elementary School are working with the NC Resilience and Learning Project, which is an initiative of the Public School Forum of NC. The NC Resilience and Learning Project works primarily with high poverty schools where trauma is more prevalent.

“We are piloting this program at three schools in North Carolina this year and two of them are in Edgecombe County,” said Elizabeth DeKonty, director of the NC Resilience and Learning Project. “We chose Edgecombe County because they were the most interested and engaged with this work.”

As a part of this project, the Forum is working with the schools to train school administrators, teachers and staff to help them identify students who may have experienced one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and develop new strategies that may enable them to work more effectively with them.

“We are establishing resilience teams at each school, which include the principal, the social worker or school counselor and a handful of teachers,” DeKonty said.

ACEs include such experiences as poverty, divorce or separation, death of a parent, having a parent in jail, violence in the home, facing regular racism or living with someone who is mentally ill, suicidal or has an alcohol or drug problem.

By this definition, 49.6 percent of children in North Carolina have faced Adverse Childhood Experiences and 23.8 percent have had two or more, according to a recent report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in collaboration with the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

ACEs can have serious, long-term impacts on a child’s health and well-being by contributing to high levels of toxic stress that derail healthy physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, the report said. Research shows that ACEs increase the long-term risk for smoking, alcoholism, depression, heart and liver diseases and dozens of other illnesses and unhealthy behaviors. The new data show that 33 percent of U.S. children with two or more ACEs have a chronic health condition involving a special health care need, compared to 13.6 percent of children without ACEs, the report reveals.

These traumas can also impact the classroom, the report said.

“If a child’s stress and unhealed trauma leads to acting out in class, that disruption is felt by the other children in the room as well as the teacher. These impacts require the healing of trauma at a family, community and societal level. Practitioners and policymakers should respond to these new data by advancing strategies that can both prevent ACEs in the first place and support families and communities as they learn and heal,” Dr. Christina Bethell, director of the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, said in a press release.

The NC Resilience and Learning Project is seeking to address this effect on classroom learning by helping schools learn more about how to help these students. DeKonty said her group is applying techniques gleaned from a similar Boston-based project called the Trauma and Learning Initiative.

“Months of trauma affects the brain development in children and has an impact on their behavior and learning,” DeKonty said. “At Patillo and Stocks, we are trying to give the teachers and staff tools to help support these kids.”

DeKonty said she plans to spend a year working intensively with these schools in Edgecombe County before expanding the program to other schools across the state. DeKonty said she hopes to see good results from the effort.

“In other school systems that have used similar programs, this effort has improved academic data and helped reduce the number of suspensions,” DeKonty said. “We hope to see similar results here.”

For more information about the NC Resilience and Learning Project, go to https://www.ncforum.org/north-carolina-resilience-and-learning-project/

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