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Role of Trauma Responsive Educational Practices in Schools Serving High Crime Neighborhoods

When children are overwhelmed by traumatic experiences they shut down their thinking and feelings to survive the threat. If they are chronically exposed to traumatic experiences such as community violence their bodies and brains begin to act as if they are in constant danger, even when in school. They are traumatized—left with physiological, emotional, and cognitive wounds that fester after the immediate threat has passed. These children are constantly agitated and endlessly vigilant. This leaves many unresponsive to teacher’s instructions and with little cognitive space left for learning.


Children coping with high levels of community violence stop relying on adults around them because they no longer believe that they will be protected. This forces children into the position of securing their own safety—they become overly aggressive, begin carrying knives and other sharp weapons, and eventually begin carrying guns. They begin these actions with the belief that it will keep them from being victimized, but research tells us that these strategies place them at a greater risk for being direct victims of violence and can also place them in the role of aggressor.   


Rigid, discipline first, educational contexts re-traumatize these children, leave them behind academically, and push them into the juvenile justice system. Because traumatized children exhibit challenging classroom behaviors their school experiences become increasingly focused on discipline and behavior management, and exclusion from classroom instruction. Discipline first educational contexts punish traumatized children for their inability to adapt to rigid classroom contexts. Children coping with chronic traumatic stress need: (1) educators who have been trained to identify trauma symptoms and understand how trauma impacts cognitive and behavioral functioning; (2) educators who use evidence-based practices and curricula for supporting the development of traumatized children, and (3) educational contexts that prioritize keeping children in the classroom and engaged in learning.  



Additional Reading:

Collins, K. S. (2001). Children's Perceptions of Safety and Exposure to Violence. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 10(1-2), 31-49.


Osofsky, J. D. (1999). The Impact of Violence on Children. The Future of Children, 33-49.


Phifer, L. W., & Hull, R. (2016). Helping Students Heal: Observations of Trauma-Informed Practices in the Schools. School Mental Health, 8(1), 201-205.


Voisin, D. R., & Elsaesser, C. M. (2013). Pathways from Polyvictimization to Youth Problem Behaviors: The Critical Role of School Engagement. International Journal of Higher Education, 2(4), 15-30.

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