The Enduring Impact of Trauma in Schools, How Social-Emotional Learning Could Help

28 Aug The Enduring Impact of Trauma in Schools, How Social-Emotional Learning Could Help

In the last post Phil talked about social-emotional learning. In this blog post Liz will be sharing the impact of Hurricane Katrina in the work that she does at EduMetrics, and in particular the importance of social-emotional learning in schools. This time of year always brings up a lot of things for Liz, in particular, the stories her former students told her about Hurricane Katrina. These are her opinions and experiences. Liz is a research associate working on the Templeton Study. You can read more about the study here.

Five years ago in the beginning of August I was in an auditorium being trained with the other new employees of a middle school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a crash course on what it was like to work with students at my school. I was excited to be starting my placement in the eighth grade as a teaching assistant in a math and English classroom. Like an eager kid on the first day of class, I had my notebook open ready to take notes. After a brief introduction we got right into it. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Superdome, post-Katrina

The Louisiana Superdome acted as a shelter for those unable to evacuate from New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall. It is estimated that near 14,000 people went to the Superdome during the hurricane.

“Many of your students will be afraid of rain.”

The teacher went on to explain that the majority of students in our school were experiencing some level of trauma from their experiences during Hurricane Katrina. Many students had been displaced from their homes in New Orleans, some experienced the flooding first hand, and all were too young to fully comprehend what occurred.

My time in Baton Rouge was the most difficult and formative time in my life. I did work with students who were traumatized by the storm, both the flood and its aftermath. One student I had in English was always in trouble. We spent most of our time together walking around the campus talking, trying to calm down. While we walked I learned so much about him.

He had lived in New Orleans during the storm and had ended up in the Superdome. He didn’t go into much detail but he said something that always stuck with me, “I think people forgot. They used to ask me [about it]”.

Ten years ago the trajectory of my life was being set in stone without me fully comprehending the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. That young man and my other students’ experiences are a huge part of why I work where I do.

Social-emotional learning is something my students craved, but never got, because of the time constraints teachers were under to prepare them for the 8th grade exam. During my interview at EduMetrics, when iNOTED was explained to me, I imagined what this could have meant for my students, my colleagues, and the administration as it related to Hurricane Katrina.

If we could have quickly checked in with students on a regular basis about the trauma the kids were experiencing we would have been able to identify students that were struggling, improve practices within the classroom to assist with their trauma, and support those changes with evidence.

While EduMetrics and iNOTED are not quite there yet, it is my hope that my work on the Templeton Study gets us thinking about students as more than just a vessel for knowledge but young adults who need help navigating adolescence just as much as they need help understanding fractions and grammar.

This is just a brief story about how the trauma of Hurricane Katrina affected a particular group of young people. If you would like to learn more about the emotional distress and more importantly the resilience that has surfaced among Hurricane Katrina survivors, please listen to this NPR program.

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