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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

November 22, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Cases of childhood trauma: a hard reality in our classrooms

The more you talk with teachers, the more you understand that, for better or worse, a huge part of their job involves managing childhood trauma.

In most classrooms, there are students with divorced parents; some who’ve been insulted or hit at home; others with moms or dads who abuse drugs or alcohol, and too many who don’t have enough to eat.

Each of these miseries is listed – along with five other common traumas – on the nationally-recognized scorecard for Adverse Childhood Experiences, and researchers have discovered that they have significant effects in the classroom.

Put simply: Kids experiencing chronic trauma can’t learn.

“It’s physiologically impossible,” writes Jane Ellen Stevens on the ACEStooHigh website. “The kid who loses it and drops the f-bomb probably has trauma going on in his or her life. So does the kid who skips school or is labeled ‘unmotivated’ — head down on the desk or staring into space. In other words, they’re having typical stress reactions: fight, flight or freeze.”

Happily, Washington leads the nation in developing trauma-informed models for teaching.

Not a minute too soon. According to the Washington State Family Policy Council, 13 out of every 30 students in our classrooms suffers from toxic stress due to three or more traumatic experiences.

Think this stuff affects only those a world away? In one recent study from Spokane, researchers studied 2,101 elementary school students, trying to figure out how common such traumatic events were in their lives and whether they correlated with academic problems. Most of the kids (78 percent) were white, and nearly half (45 percent) were from middle-income homes.

According to school staffers, 45 percent of students had experienced one or more of these adverse events.

Take the ACEs test yourself. It was developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health, and suggests that “trauma” is really now stunningly common life.

0 Comments | More in News | Topics: ACEStooHigh, childhood trauma

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