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Rowan Cty, NC: Teachers trained to ask, 'What happened to you' (at home) when kids have a meltdown

Feb 18, 2018, Salisbury (NC) Post: Take a deep breath: Koontz launches resiliency program to help kids cope with stress http://www.salisburypost.com/2018/02/18/take-a-deep-breath-koontz-launches-resiliency-program-to-help-kids-cope-with-stress/ They’re only 5, 6, 8, 10-years-old — but life has already thrown some elementary school students more punches than they can handle. Rowan County children walk into school every day with the scales stacked against them; bearing the weight of abuse, poverty or community violence — and when one more weight is added to the pile, they break. “The response could be fight or freeze,” Christy Lockheart, a social worker at Koontz Elementary said. “And it’s out of their control.” Lockheart, and others who specialize in working with children, refer to childhood trauma as Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs; and have seen firsthand how multiple instances of trauma can cripple a student’s future. The CDC reports that one in six children nationally have experienced one or more adverse childhood experiences. According to the CDC, ACEs can range from a divorce or mental illness in the home to sexual abuse, and have been linked to future substance abuse, risky behaviors, chronic illness and even early death. In school, it can impair memory and learning. “Trauma and stress have significant effects — physical, psychological, social and emotional,” Lockheart said. And for some students at Koontz, it’s become a crisis…. “If we want to be a trauma-sensitive community, our schools have to be trauma informed and trauma sensitive,” Houpe said. … As a partner with the N.C. Public Forum, staff members at Koontz have undergone training in identifying children who have experienced trauma and have also formed a steering committee to develop specific strategies on how to address the issue on a school-wide level. But it can be hard to identify a child who’s experienced trauma. Children often process these events differently than adults, or have delayed reactions. According to DeKonty, students may react with “fight, flight or freeze.” Students could express their trauma by becoming aggressive, by being hyper vigilant, jumpy or by withdrawing completely. …. “Small things become really big crisis moments for them,” she said. Whether it’s a small insult to their outfit, or another student glancing in their direction, many students can’t brush these moments off — they feel they have to react. “They’re either gonna fight or they’re gonna flee,” Marrero said. “…They don’t understand that there is middle ground in there. They don’t have anyone to teach them that.” … One of the big focuses has been coaching teachers to tweak the way they react to student meltdowns. Instead of thinking “what’s wrong with you,” Lockheart and DeKonty have been training teachers to think, “what happened to you?” But that’s not the only change. … Lockheart also works with teachers and students to teach them positive coping skills. Classrooms focus on mindfulness and have isolated cool-down areas, lessons include discussions on identifying emotions, on catharsis and on calm-down strategies. “So they’re able to calm down, versus having an outburst that in a school setting is seen as a negative thing,” Lockheart said. … “I think the whole thing about being trauma sensitive is creating a safe and supportive environment,” Lockheart said of the move. Koontz’s administration is also working on using resilience strategies when a student acts out instead of taking punitive measures. …