“CHILDREN CAN’T CHECK THEIR TRAUMA AT THE SCHOOL’S DOOR” SHARIF EL MEKKI
Students across our country experience unrelenting trauma. These experiences often go unspoken and untreated.
Researchers determined that “ACEs—adverse childhood experiences harm young people’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects show up decades later, and they cause most chronic diseases, and mental illness, and furthermore they are at the root of most violence.”
Researchers found 13% of adults in Pennsylvania have an ACEs score of 4 or higher. And 30-45% of adults nationwide reported an ACEs score of 4 or higher.
Trauma doesn’t turn off because the school bell rang. People talk about the importance of educating “the whole child.” This holistic approach includes art, music, social, emotional learning, computer science, etc. But what we fail to realize is that the whole child extends beyond school curriculum and requires support for the traumatic experiences that many of our students encounter daily.
Educators are now becoming aware of the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on the brains and well-being of children. Although, our collective actions haven’t kept pace with the research. We have a better understanding of the PTSD of soldiers, and many child advocates say that there is no “post” -traumatic for our youth. The ‘P’ in “post-traumatic” for our youth often stands for “persistent trauma.” Students deal with a constant barrage of decisions that adults make that perpetuate the trauma: racist redlining, deliberate under-funding of schools, and more.
Those facing persistent trauma, have difficulty building trust and maintaining healthy relationships. It is a barrier to learning. Schools must make decisions about how to support students. Parents and the community look to schools to provide the space and time to help students cope and thrive beyond the trauma they’ve experienced. Although, it is challenging to help students evolve beyond their persistent trauma. Strong school relationships, help kids cope and feel whole.
“CARING FOR MYSELF IS NOT SELF-INDULGENCE, IT IS SELF-PRESERVATION, AND THAT IS AN ACT OF POLITICAL WARFARE.” Audre Lorde
When adults don’t practice self-care, they make matters worse. Children need stable, level-headed caregivers. Adults need to help students learn self-care. The road to liberation is long and arduous. Self-care must be a part of our students’ and those who serve them daily.
Angela Davis said, “Self-care has to be incorporated in all of our efforts. And this is something new.”
This is what we need to prepare our students for. Not only do they face trauma, but they will also deal with racism, sexism, and a whole lot of other “isms” of oppression that are traumatic. Our students need to be prepared to handle the oppression, while they help dismantle it.
Adult decisions can perpetuate the trauma students experience.
Trauma-informed schools have ongoing professional development and reflection. “We make it a whole school project with every adult participating in building knowledge, increasing self-care, and thinking about how to support, rather than punish students when they are struggling. We know our students are bright and capable and we must hold them to the highest standards; we know they can achieve, and we support them in making decisions that will set them up for success.” Schools must also continue growing, being more reflective, and solutions-oriented as we help our youth and community.
Schools across the country are working hard to ensure students feel whole, despite what they have been exposed to and experience. We also must ensure that our schools don’t contribute to students’ experiences of persistent trauma.
Heddy Keith, author of Through It All: A Memoir of Love and Loss, The Men I Chose to Love and Lessons Learned