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Detroit Free Press: OP ED calls for one school social worker/50 students

Dec 16, 2019, Detroit Free Press: Children in Crisis: What we’re doing, not doing and should be doing Michigan is a reactionary state. Children not reading at grade level by third grade? The state Legislature votes to keep them in third grade instead of solving the problem. Detroit children consistently scoring near the bottom on national standardized tests? Critics blame a lack of teachers and parents who may not be equipped to help. Children suffering from trauma being treated like aberrations as if their circumstances are their fault? No one points to the overwhelming poverty or toxic environments that some live in every day…. It is past time for officials in Lansing and in every school district to stop putting Band-Aids on cancer. We need to stop reacting and start acting. Our children are suffering. Ask their overburdened teachers. Ask social workers with caseloads too large to truly manage…. What we should be doing is fixing the system and trying to prevent the trauma so they can be ready to learn…. It means addressing the causes of children’s problems and solving them rather than looking for inadequate ways to address symptoms…. First, the state should increase funding to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and DHHS should partner with schools to place a social worker in every school for every 50 students. That still isn’t enough, but it ensures at least three workers in every school and five to 10 in larger schools. Second, the state Legislature should require that every child attend kindergarten, like more successful states whose officials understand that it is unacceptable for 6-year-olds to show up for first grade without knowing their last names, how to spell their first names or how to count to 10. Yes, this is real. Third, every school district should provide trauma counseling for teachers, so as they partner with clinicians and counselors to help children, then can better care for themselves. Some districts aren’t waiting for the state. Dr. Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, surveyed his districtwide staff and found that most of them were dealing with children in pain. He has gotten grants to begin programs, initially in six schools, to improve mental health. But he plans to do more. And he is now surveying students to better understand what they need. We must help him so his students will become former students prepared to work, care for families and lead…. It means training teachers to teach children who live in trauma, who have suffered adverse childhood experiences. Every collegiate school of education in the country should make dealing with trauma a required course. It shouldn’t take mass school shootings or a child being mauled by dogs to get teachers ready for the aftermath. It means providing counseling and support for the secondary trauma that teachers experience after soothing students who have attempted suicide, been raped, watched family members killed or watched a father beat a mother while they were doing their homework. It means spending the money needed to keep school districts from raiding their general education funds to pay for required special education…. No school district superintendent should have to place traumatized kids in special education because there is no place else for them to be, as Fin Hall in Romulus has had to do…. Millions of children are suffering adverse childhood experiences, experiencing life in ways that are heartbreaking and disruptive. We can no longer ignore their pain, no longer not help teachers and counselors make them better…. But as I’ve said many times, and I know she understands, we also must “Fix the damn schools!”


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