An estimated one in four children in Spokane-area elementary schools has suffered multiple traumas – such as domestic violence, neglect or divorce – which affect the ability to learn and succeed, according to a recent Washington State University survey.
A $250,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to WSU Extension in Eastern Washington will help teachers in six Spokane-area elementary schools recognize children who are suffering from a bad experience and use targeted approaches to teach them.
“Traumatic experiences and the impact in lives are so significant that we should consider it a major public health concern,” said Chris Blodgett, of the Area Health Education Center at Eastern Washington’s WSU Extension and the project’s primary investigator. “The level of need and the level of problems completely outstrips any official response capacity that we have in the United States.”
The plan is to have a teaching model in some classrooms starting in September 2011. The elementary schools involved in the program are Whitman, Longfellow and Bemis (Spokane Public Schools), Otis Orchards (East Valley School District), Broadway (Central Valley School District) and Farwell (Mead School District).
WSU researchers began studying children’s exposure to violence, such as domestic violence and child abuse and neglect, about 10 years ago.
“About five years ago, we started focusing on what chronic stress does to brain development,” said Blodgett, adding that traumatic experiences are not limited to violence. Kids are also affected by divorce, homelessness or substance abuse by a family member.
The program is important because it will provide “the support for kids to learn and be successful, and in the long run, graduate,” said Wendy Bleecker, director of student services at Spokane Public Schools.
Said Blodgett, “We’re not asking teachers to become therapists or counselors, just understanding how a child dealing with trauma responds to learning. One of the areas is around emotional regulation and impulse control, and the ability for a child to smoothly use thought and language to manage their behavior.”
Out of about 2,600 students who attend the six elementary schools, researchers think about 600 children suffering from complex trauma will be identified annually and provided access to services, Blodgett said.
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