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Helping students with stress, trauma

What is stress? We often think of stress as a negative construct, but some stress is normal and essential. Other stress can be tolerable. Toxic stress, however, can occur as a result of strong, frequent, or long lasting events and can cross into the realm of trauma.

Trauma can actually cause impairment to brain functioning and our immune systems. When we experience trauma, our brains can divert energy from the higher level thinking and executive functioning parts and go into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. While traumatic events can be a lot for adults to sort through, it can be especially impactful on the developing brains of our children.

The Copper Country Intermediate School District and several of our local schools have been expanding their knowledge of how trauma impacts our students. Our Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Team is developing a “practice profile,” that aligns local initiatives to create a description of the big ideas of trauma informed practices, and describe what implementation looks like in schools.

We will be providing professional development for schools who wish to expand their knowledge and practices in this area. While the intent is to positively impact our students who have experienced trauma, our hope is that all students will benefit.

Many of the efforts surrounding trauma are focused on three big ideas: self-care, relationship skills, and emotional regulation. Students who have experienced trauma often have an overdeveloped, hyper vigilant sensitivity to the moods of surrounding adults. If the surrounding adults are not in a good emotional state, it can trigger behaviors from these students. If we want students to have better behavior outcomes, we really need to start with the adults in their lives having strategies to manage their own stress levels.

Relationship skills are another important concept when working with students who have experienced trauma. Many of us may remember the days of our teachers greeting us at the door, or giving us a special goodbye, or taking a few minutes to check in to see how we’re doing. It turns out these old standbys are very beneficial for students. They need to know that they have a predictable, safe environment with people who care about them. Over time, this can combat some of the negative impacts of trauma on students.

Regulation is another vital skill needed by not just trauma impacted students, but all students. When emotions redirect the brain energy away from the thinking parts and into “fight, flight or freeze” mode, we need to have some tools in our toolbox for getting our brains regulated again. By teaching students specific strategies to regulate their emotions, we can get students back and engaged in the learning process as well as minimizing disruptions to our learning environments.

The Copper Country ISD put together a MTSS team many years ago to help our local school districts. The team members have a wide variety of backgrounds to help look at issues from multiple angles. Unfortunately, dealing with stress and trauma is on the rise. Together with our local school districts, we continue to expand our learning and implement strategies to help improve outcomes for all of our students.

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