“These are all our children. We will profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.” That’s a quote from James Baldwin, and it’s the introduction that Field Stevenson Principal Tiffany Brunson used in her presentation about children and trauma.
A large number of students at Field Stevenson School – 65 out of approximately 150 – are affected by trauma, according to Brunson. In a presentation entitled “Fostering Resilient Learners,” Brunson spoke about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the impact they have on children, and how to create trauma-sensitive classrooms and schools.
ACEs include abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), neglect (physical and emotional) and household dysfunction (e.g., mental illness of a family member, an incarcerated relative, abuse of the mother, divorce).
When children experience any form of ACE, the emotional impact on them can affect their behavior and/or their physical and mental health. In a slide presented by Brunson at a school board meeting on Nov. 14, the risk outcomes included alcoholism, drug use, missed work, suicide attempts, depression and diseases related to lack of physical activity or smoking.
Additionally, a higher number of ACEs is correlated with a greater risk for grade repetition, according to a Johns Hopkins University study Brunson referenced in her presentation.
Brunson has been leading a movement at Field Stevenson to help teachers understand trauma and how it affects students, and to help students relax and focus, even if they’re stressed about events at home or in other areas of their lives.
A key component is the realization that a child’s learning will suffer from, for example, not having enough to eat or having an incarcerated parent.
“Students who have trauma in their lives need a safe space where they can learn despite what’s going on at home,” said Brunson. “And educators need to understand what’s causing destructive student behaviors and help break negative cycles.”
At Field Stevenson, special quiet areas called “peace corners” have been set up throughout the school. These are places where students can choose to go to get away and de-stress.
“They can take a break,” said Brunson. In the peace corners, activities are available for the kids if they want to do them, including writing and coloring. Children are reminded to practice breathing.
Brunson mentioned that the kids at Field Stevenson are taught mindfulness, which includes breathing techniques.
“We give and equip kids with the power of control,” she said.
Yoga is also taught in the schools, and the kids are encouraged to take “brain breaks,” which help them refocus.
The resource Brunson is using at Field Stevenson is a book called “Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom” by Kristin Sauers and Pete Hall. In the introduction to the book, the authors describe the new classroom environment faced by educators today:
“[Students] step into our schools toting heavy burdens: the stress of overwhelming trauma and the scars of neglect and abuse. The experience of trauma has dramatically altered the landscape of the schools we work in.”
Brunson said it is her goal to help all students with their burdens so they can learn at high levels in an environment of protection and encouragement.