sensitive children

Salvatore Terrasi of Lesley University gives a presentation on trauma sensitive schools program.

With the global COVID-19 pandemic continuing to disrupt workplace, social and family connections, local educators this week championed a program intended to soften the effects of that dislocation on vulnerable schoolchildren.

According to Sandra Einsel, Foxboro’s director of student services, the so-called “trauma sensitive schools” program helps teachers identify signs of trauma in young people which often contribute to behavioral or academic issues.

Communicating through a multi-tiled virtual access platform, educators from Foxboro and the Institute for Trauma Sensitivity at Lesley University on Monday said that program is uniquely positioned to assist struggling students, especially those already stressed by learning disabilities or other challenges.

That Monday night’s presentation occurred amid an unprecedented health crisis was coincidental, but fitting nonetheless.

“Given what is going on right now I think [this topic] is particularly appropriate and timely,” said school committee Chairwoman Tina Belanger. “It’s been traumatic to me so I’m sure it’s traumatic to our children.”

One of those participating remotely was Salvatore Terrasi, director of Lesley’s trauma institute, who called Foxboro a leader in the push for trauma-sensitive schools and said the district “is changing educational practices in a deep and meaningful way.”

Terrasi explained that students suffering from traumatic episodes often arrive at school ill-equipped to learn and understand. They often have trouble concentrating, regulating their behavior and building relationships.

In addition, many exhibit coping mechanisms often seen in marginalized families while others struggle to form attachments or lack language skills to process the social/emotional factors which contribute to their problems.

Terrasi, who led a 2016 White House summit on trauma-informed classroom approaches, said student stress is often misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder or outright disobedience. Unfortunately, he added, those relationships critical to classroom learning can be difficult to establish and maintain with students who live with chronic stress.

Superintendent Amy Berdos told school board members that 25 local educators already have completed all four graduate-level courses which comprise the Lesley University program, with others currently following in their footsteps.

“It really is about meeting the needs of the whole child,” Berdos explained.

Among the 25 local graduates is Dianna Parr, Foxboro’s early childhood special education coordinator.

“Kids these days are exposed to so many more types of things than ever before,” Parr said. “You just don’t know how big or how small these impacts are, and it’s really changed the way in which we engage kids.”

Kim McDowell, district-wide special education team facilitator, said strategies learned in the Lesley program already are making an impact in local classrooms.

“We really don’t know which students may have experienced trauma and the level of that trauma,” McDowell said.

At this point, McDowell added, graduates of the Lesley program are prepared to share with colleagues what they have learned to help implement strategies that nurture, rather than hinder, learning.

“You can carry the ball now,” Terrasi observed. “You have some great people there.”

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