* * * NOWHERE TO HIDE * * * “The Elephant in the [Class]Room”

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 Confessions of an ignorant and frustrated teacher

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Trauma during development or, childhood trauma, changes the architecture of the physical brain and the ability to learn and social behavior.  It impacts 2 out of 3 children at some level, but I didn’t even know what it was…

Childhood Trauma can be defined as a response of overwhelming fear or helplessness  to a painful or shocking event, or to chronic, toxic stress, including ACEs (adverse childhood experiences).

ACEs include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, a missing parent (due to separation, divorce, incarceration, death), witnessing household substance abuse, violence, or mental illness and more.

Trauma-impacted children are not sick or “bad”, they are injured.  Developmental trauma is an injury.  It happens TO the child.  In turn, when they become adults, many re-enact unaddressed trauma, injuring the next generation in a merciless cycle of pain and fear. When multiple injuries fester unaddressed, they set off a chain of events leading ultimately to early death, according to the CDC.

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Deep Impact:  Developmental trauma changes the architecture of a developing child’s physical brain.

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flickr Public Domain
flickr Public Domain

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Part 1:  The changes to the  physical structure of the brain impair cognition.  The specific changes to brain architecture damage children’s memory systems, their ability to think, to organize multiple priorities (“executive function”), and hence to learn, particularly literacy skills

Part 2: The changes to the child’s  neurobiology predispose hypervigilance and suspicion, leading trauma-impacted children to misread social cues.  Their fears and seemingly distorted perceptions generate surprisingly aggressive behaviors.  Their ‘hair trigger’ defenses ( or a withdrawn, dissociation) are often set off by deep memories outside of explicit consciousness of the child.

Adults’ view, from the ‘outside’, of the seemingly illogical, or worse, oppositional behavior, is often one of shock, confusion, frustration and maybe anger.

If we act on our uninformed views, we risk re-triggering more of the child’s trauma, and even more aggression. I confess, as a less experienced classroom teacher, I often did exactly that.

The child’s inner pain and fear are often intentionally camouflaged and nearly impossible to perceive from the outside.

The trauma history, which connects the inside fear to the outside behavior, is often buried so deeply in the brain that even the injured child can be unconscious of the connection.

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Some adults normalize the pain and fear of the injured child, thinking “they’ll get over it.”  It’s actually the opposite.  Young children have fewer coping mechanisms and their immature brains are still developing.

The impacts of trauma are actually  greater on the still-developing brain.

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ACE-impacted kids are more common than seasonal allergy sufferers

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Experts including Surgeon Generals and the Attorney General have described children’s exposure to violence and trauma with specific terms ‘national crisis’, and ‘epidemic’ years ago.   The CDC says impacts from childhood trauma are critical to understand.

Childhood trauma is a broad-based crisis.  It impacts children of all colors, all income levels, all education levels, all social strata, across all geographies.   It’s all of us.

Scientists Felitti/Anda(CDC) have found that even in beautiful, suburban San Diego about one-fourth of middle class, mostly white, college educated, working folks with medical insurance had THREE or more ACEs!

Three or more ACEs is significant because three+ ACEs correlate over a lifetime, with doubled risk of depression, severe obesity, drug abuse, lung disease, and liver disease. It triples the risk of alcoholism, STDs and teen pregnancy.  There is a 5X increase in attempted suicide.  The lifelong impacts are shocking and alarming.

ace-pyramid
Centers for Disease Control

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy says that child abuse and neglect are significantly “associated with many leading causes of adult death

Children did not cause their own trauma and they can not address their trauma alone. They need adult support.

Nevertheless, presently many adults ignore childhood trauma. It’s rarely spoken about.

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Schools are not trauma-informed organizations

 

I am embarrassed to admit my own ignorance.

I did know about the inner pain and fear of my students more intimately than most.  I began, and still begin, every school year by visiting my student’s families, sitting in their living rooms to discuss school, life and their hopes and concerns about their child.  In the classroom, I quickly experience the child’s outward behaviors which can  seem random, nonsensical at times, and often angry.

Yet, I still do not easily connect the angry, outward behavior in the classroom to the inner fear or pain.

As an adult, the classroom seems “safe.” There isn’t an obvious or logical connection to continuing fears, in our safe context.  It seems contradictory.

What I forget is that the pain and fear are not in the environment.

The pain and fear are hidden inside the child: they bring intense fear memories and altered neurobiology with them like they bring their backpack (wherever they go).

Making the connection, intellectually, is even more difficult in the midst of my own stress from a  triggered student’s emotional, intentionally distracting, sometimes screamed, personal insults or abusive attacks.

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Even when I have been able to stay calm myself, and to connect the (seeming) anger to the (hidden) fear, that was only the beginning.  I still did not understand.

There’s more.

The group context, or the social complexity in the classroom may be the most difficult aspect of all.

I learned the hard way:

when I  stay calm in the midst of the triggered child’s barrage, it seems like “unfair” leniency to other children.  They see only the aggressive outward behavior from a peer and they expect “punishment”.

More learning when I succeed in maintaining composure:

the other 30 children in the room are not waiting calmly or politely for me so I can focus solely on de-escalating one of their peers. It’s an uncomfortable and off-task process for other kids to endure so they also digress quickly.

Even more learning:

whether I stay calm or not,  the aggression and commotion of one triggered student will often trigger a second student’s fear, maybe others too.

Keeping the academic context in mind, all above initiates from a single instance only.  Several instances involving different students can happen every day, sometimes simultaneously.  Meanwhile, each minute invested to de-escalate a single student is a minute lost to academic endeavors for all thirty other students.

It’s complex.

Now, imagine NOT being trauma-informed and facing 20 to 30 students, and NOT knowing that 30% to 50% are trauma-impacted…

“Success” would require becoming expert at detecting multiple, virtually undetectable triggers, within multiple students. It is not quick or simple or instinctive.

There’s more.

That same teacher must become expert at defusing all those students’ fear triggers, and all in advance of any “fight or flight” response, which can disrupt the entire class.

All day today.

All week this week.

All month this month.

More context:  A teacher is not permitted to consider adjusting the scope or pace of lessons:  the national “Common Core”, or academic “State Standards” which are synchronized and  connected, lesson-by-lesson, and which lead to “standardized” testing.

The recurring, “standardized” tests and the resulting stresses are rightfully controversial for many reasons, by themselves.  Trauma-impacts add more controversy.  First, the stress of the high stakes of the tests  can re-trigger past traumas during testing.  Second, the tests also occur in urban settings with higher concentrations of violence, poverty, stress and trauma, all impairing cognition under stress.  Test results can then be distorted as “achievement gaps” for higher concentrations of students of color in that setting and socioeconomic status.

Let’s pile on top:  budget cuts for public schools each year translate to fewer Teachers/Counselors/Nurses with fewer resources to accomplish trauma-informed education, year after year.

“Teaching” in this context becomes nearly impossible at many points.

We are trying to scoop water out of a boat which  has gaping trauma-holes in the bottom.

Trauma-impacted children are losing their right to equally access their education, while adults stand by, while school districts stand by, while states stand by.

That leads to the central conclusion and key action :

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Schools must become trauma-informed organizations

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Cognitive, or “educational”,  processes are muted neurologically in triggered children:  a direct conflict with schools’ missions.

If schools are going to achieve their educational mission, for all students, then schools must be aware of and accommodating of trauma-impacted students.

‘Trauma-Informed’ is a comprehensive paradigm, a process,  not a destination or ‘program’.

“Success” with trauma-impacted students comes slowly, over time.  It is crucial to maintain a safe, predictable, calm, environment, and safe relationships, school-wide, with all adults responding calmly, hour by hour, day by day, month after month.  Safety, safety, safety, at all levels, in all endeavors, in all domains.  And that’s only the beginning.

Just as children can not address their own trauma alone, teachers can not create trauma-informed school organizations all alone.

Teaching trauma-impacted children is an intense role.  Successful teachers on the front line require training, support, strategies and resources.  Explicit training and substantive support are essential.  It’s crucial that the classroom training and personal training and support for all staff, school-wide, be on-going.  All these are on-going requirements, because the trauma is on-going.

A  few hours about “trauma” in a “PD” session can help build awareness, but becoming competent with the depth and breadth of the issues requires much more than a PD or a weekend seminar.  Those will only create frustration for teachers on the front line facing the reality of trauma every day.  It’s personal for those on the front line.  The on-going training and support must also be personal.   “Reflective Supervision” (see here and here) would be a start. If teachers are not afforded on-going training and simultaneous on-going support, then a dangerously explosive risk is set up for all involved.

Training starts with brain science,  including the continuing,  deep and lifelong impacts of developmental trauma.  Practical basics include de-escalation in group settings and then also strategies to avoid in our school systems, so schools themselves are not re-triggering or re-traumatizing children.  Otherwise, our attempts at “academics” will be, at best, inefficient, more likely futile.

Simultaneously, at the school level, we need to identify, or in some way, screen for students’ trauma histories. It’s too easy to miss camouflaged trauma, in particular those children who defend by quietly dissociating.  We almost never talk about them, yet experts tell us that among younger children,  “dissociation” is the most common defense against trauma.

‘Trauma-informed’ includes an adequate ratio of adults to students in a classroom.  One adult for thirty children is not “trauma-informed”.  The data is clear:  six-to-ten children (minimally) in a classroom of thirty are trauma-impacted in our city.  One adult per six-to-ten trauma-impacted students is absurdly insufficient,  and that still ignores the other twenty-plus children who are sharing the same space.  “Trauma-informed” is simply dangerous lip service at the point of twenty(plus) children with one adult.  Inadequate staffing is unethical, and is directly in conflict with ‘equal access’ to education for all the children in the same classroom.

‘Trauma-informed’ includes physical space for students’ off-line de-escalation, away from the ‘crowd’, noise, stress, and triggers — not simply ‘the corner’ of the same classroom with 30-plus other folks trying to learn.  Off-line de-escalation space also requires trauma-competent adults, including on-site counselors and a nurse.

More important:  ‘Trauma-Informed’ also includes explicit physical space and explicit time prescribed and expected and encouraged (and measured for both supervisor and staff) for Adult de-escalation and reflective practices off-line. On-going, close, personal interaction for hours each day with trauma-impacted students generates “Secondary Traumatic Stress” (STS) leading to “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD) among the adults.  ‘Bearing Witness’ to injured children is difficult labor.  In fact, the research tells us that most successful teachers are immersed in student  relationships, much deeper than a mere witness, or  simple ‘contact’ and therefore, most vulnerable.

Experts characterize the danger of STS and PTSD in relationships with trauma-impacted children as a predictable occupational injury.  Key direction for the safety of all  is for adults to “put on their own oxygen mask on first” (and keep it on), before trying to help a child.  Explicit, front line teacher-supports are absolutely critical, on-going, because childhood trauma is on-going.  Supports for staff must go well beyond “self-care”, which can often be the district’s way of “blaming the victim”.  Reflective Supervision is one positive example of support.

Next, ‘Trauma-Informed’ radically restructures discipline away from standardized, ‘zero-tolerance’ policies.    Otherwise, school systems continue filling “the school-to-prison pipeline” with injured, trauma-impacted children.

Further, we need to confront the impotence, the stress, and the damage created by the paradigm of school as a “learning factory” with synchronized timing and “standardized” testing.  These are the antithesis of equity and trauma-informed.

Finally, we should be adjusting efforts against “achievement gaps” to a laser focus on investing more in communities with more violence, stress and trauma.

All the above efforts at ‘trauma-informed’ help confront the horrifying litany of lifelong implications of trauma during childhood development.  Meanwhile, children are losing their right to equally access their education

In spite of the devastating impacts and implications,  Developmental Trauma remains “the elephant in the [class]room”! That is wrong, morally wrong.

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Help build awareness of developmental trauma

“Nowhere to Hide” blogposts are designed to help grow awareness of childhood trauma. Each post focuses on a single component of the workings of developmental trauma, via a real life example in short, “60 second” soundbite links, akin to “Public Service Announcements” (PSAs).

All the narratives are all about real kids (with pseudonyms).  I  live in community with them, and know them personally as students, neighbors and friends.   These are not “combined” or imaginary narratives, or caricatures.

Most of the children in the stories lived in a single neighborhood.  Each one passed through my classroom.  More than half were in the same classroom, the very same year”!  Difficult to imagine…

 

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                “Nowhere to Hide” series links

Trigger warning: 

The children’s experiences in the vignettes are unvarnished.  Their traumatic responses may trigger painful memories.

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“PSA” Links for social media

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Nowhere to Hide:  Maria; Fight, flight or freeze

Photo © Daun Kauffman

Nowhere to Hide:  Andre’s Fear; What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Photo © Daun Kauffman

Nowhere to Hide:  Jamar’s Hyper-arousal 

Photo © Daun Kauffman

Nowhere to Hide:  Roberto’s Dissociation 

Public Domain @ Pixabay

Nowhere to Hide:  Danny’s Memory

Photo © Daun Kauffman

Nowhere to Hide:  Ashley’s “Normal” Education?   Part 1

Pixabay: adamova1210

Nowhere to Hide:  Ashley’s “Normal” Education?   Part 2

Photo © Daun Kauffman

More to come

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“Like” us at  “Trauma-Informed Schools” on Facebook

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Please share a PSA link to help grow public awareness of the impacts of developmental trauma. There are so many of us who’ve never heard of the overpowering life-long impacts.

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“Peek Inside a Classroom” series overview

The second original series, “Peek Inside a Classroom”, provides much more detailed looks inside my classroom, primarily focused on specific students: Jasmine, Danny and José.

Other children are captured in broader looks at education reform concepts: “Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm?” and “Effective Education Reform”, co-authored with Sandra L. Bloom, M. D..

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“Peek Inside a Classroom” series links

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Peek Inside a Classroom:  Jasmine

© Elliot Gilfix/Flickr

Peek Inside a Classroom:  Danny

Photo © Daun Kauffman

Peek Inside a Classroom: José

belseykurns: Pixabay public domain
belseykurns: Pixabay public domain

Peek Inside a Classroom:  Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm?

Peek Inside a Classroom:  Effective Education Reform (with Sandra Bloom, M.D.)

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“Click for Resources…”  series overview:

“Click for Resources”  posts are the theory and research behind the narrative posts in  “Nowhere to Hide” and “Peek Inside a Classroom”.

Each post in “Click for Resources “ is divided in three parts:

1) general press articles,

2) Research Journals or academic papers

3) social media, often with video.

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“Click for Resources” series links:

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1.   Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Studies:   CLICK HERE

 2.  Impacts of Childhood Trauma: Overview               CLICK HERE

Click for Resources: Social Media on Impacts of Childhood Trauma

Click for Resources: Journal Articles on Impacts of Developmental Trauma

 3.   Trauma-Informed Schools                                               CLICK HERE

Flickr: andrew and hobbes

 4.  Trauma-Informed Social Services                                CLICK HERE 

Flickr: andrew and hobbes

 5.   Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice                             CLICK HERE

Flickr: andrew and hobbes

 6.  Trauma-Informed Public Policy                                   CLICK HERE

Flickr: andrew and hobbes

 7.  Childhood Trauma Training and Tools                     CLICK HERE

the concept of learning

 8.  Book and Publication selections                                CLICK HERE

Public Domain

9.   #800 phone numbers                                                         CLICK HERE

Pixabay: Public Domain
Developmental trauma,  still “the elephant in the  [class] room”  for many adults.

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“Like” us at  “Trauma-Informed Schools” on Facebook

 

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Nowhere to Hide: Elephant in the Classroom  As edited at Garn Press

As edited at  Living in Dialogue.

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Re-Opening Schools Experts (ROSE) Task Force

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Both the argument and the process for re-opening schools are multi-faceted and they cross a range of development stagesChildhood trauma damage looms in all directions.  The historic decisions should be based on science and data, addressing the many  complex and competing risks.  

 

The laissez-faire approach in the USA to a national attack on Covid-19 now threatens to dismiss the growing data about the nation-wide dangers and trauma-inducing experiences of when and how to re-open schools.

School re-opening guidelines should be developed by experts, trauma-informed experts, across  an array of domains.  The weighty, strategic decisions and  their implementation approaches would be tackled most effectively by a multi-faceted team of national, or even international, authorities.

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A “Re- Opening Schools Experts” task force  (ROSE task force) could demonstrate how our nation values children and prioritizes their health.  Conversely a more cavalier approach could have states and districts competing again for scarce resources, and worse; lacking knowledge, making a patchwork of decisions on whim and hearsay and emotion.

Meanwhile, our “good ole school days” memories are only memories.  “School” that we knew as a “a safe place” where children “need” to be is a dangerous, outdated paradigm.

Covid-19 changes everything that many mistakenly “romanticize” about school; socially, emotionally, psychologically, neurobiologically and pedagogically. 

Developmental Trauma and especially Polyvagal Theory provide an understanding of the biology of safety, trust and danger.

For our “youngest, most vulnerable” students especially, school will be a source of trauma.  The much-touted school-building-experience will not be “face-to-face” but “mask to mask” (with strangers). A big and intimidating difference for 5, 6, 7 year-olds.

That’s the new paradigm.

Classrooms will not include socialization, only social distancing and ‘social policing’.  No hugs, or even touch, for frightened children. Touch must be replaced by ‘hands up’ or away, behind shields, inside plastic cells, with temperature guns at foreheads. A menacing,  factory-like environment for our “youngest, most vulnerable”.

Trauma theory incorporates facial muscles and the ability to make communicative facial expressions (Not seen behind masks).  It addresses the larynx, vocal tone and vocal patterning, helping humans create sounds that soothe one another (Not heard behind masks).

Trauma theory explains why knowing that we are seen and heard can make us feel calm and safe, and why being ignored or dismissed can precipitate hypervigilance, rage reactions and mental collapse (Bessel van der Kolk).

Ready for Rage?… from our least socialized, “youngest, and most vulnerable”.

That’s the new paradigm.

We need to start every conversation with “our old school paradigm” doesn’t exist now

Traumatic experiences related to Covid-19 and schools have been and will continue   threatening  children with many, and even conflicting, experiences and triggers including:
  • “distancing” fears —  “distancing”. which should be physical distancing, but not “social” (Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk and many more).
  • gathering in large groups:  many schools with over one thousand children and school cafeterias which seat many more people than the largest restaurants
  • gathering in tight quarters (thirty  children in many urban classrooms): Equity
  • sharing hallways and bathrooms between hundreds of children
  • exposure to daily (or more frequent) medical screening protocols and medical “safety” procedures, which in themselves will be intimidating and even scary
  • compounding of other mental health challenges including depression and anxiety
  • socially, relationally  isolating at home
  • academically relationally isolating at home
  • staying home, exposed to family dysfunction and or “silently” enduring child abuse
  • studying at home without appropriate, human academic supports and resources:  Equity
  • staying home impact on family rhythms, employment and income
  • limited, uneven material resources such as hardware and software technology and internet access (and reliability) at home:  Equity
  • more

 — a lengthy, complex set of conflicting constraints and goals —

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Reopening schools should be the purview of experts, only.
Politicians and school administrators are way too under-resourced to confront these dangerous decisions alone.
Safety, effectiveness and efficiency will require more than general knowledge of two or three people who are accessible locally:
  • School Counselors who are trauma-informed
  • School Nurses who are trauma-informed
  • School or Child psychologists who are trauma-informed
  • Child and adolescent psychiatrists who are trauma-informed
  • Building Principals who are trauma-informed
  • Classroom teachers (multiple) from across all developmental stages who are also trauma-informed.  Teachers must feel safe too.  Students can sense it.
  • School Social workers who are trauma-informed
  • School Maintenance Engineers who are trauma-informed
  • Pediatricians who are trauma-informed
  • Immunologists
  • Virologists
  • Educational Academicians who are trauma-informed
  • School District Superintendents who are trauma-informed
  • Local government officials
  • Epidemiologists
  • Urban, suburban and rural issues representatives
  • Parents.  As a critical, necessary (but not sufficient) first step,  parents must believe that their schools are safe place.  Parents help regulate their children.
  • Students.  In the end, it will not be enough that adult experts declare schools “safe”.  In the final, trauma-informed analysis, each child in their own body, brainstem, limbic system and HPA axis, must feel safe.  They must be part of the task force.  If the children don’t feel safe, it is all for naught.
  • More

school, classroom, with, empty, desks

Further:   decisions, strategies and implementation approaches will be very distinct in a planning “matrix”,  which clearly addresses the complexities and the conflicts by development stages.
There is no one-size-fits-all re-opening strategy developmentally. 
FLickr Photo by Enrica Chesi-Beasley

Wise, informed approaches will be different, possibly dramatically different, in early childhood stages, versus primary years, versus middle years, versus high school;  that is K-2 versus grades 3-5, versus grades 6-8, versus grades 9-12.

It would not be efficient or logical  for fifty states to make fifty different determinations on the same experiences for the same wide range of different developmental stages across thousands of school districts.

 

Join us in a grass roots call for an expert task force to map out strategies and guidelines to re-open schools (Re-Open Schools Experts:  ROSE task force). 

Call or text your representatives in Washington, D.C. today.  Ask for a ROSE task force.

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As background, JAMA Pediatrics leads the charge, publishing a very powerful Editorial on-line (in interest of urgency), Wednesday,  May 13 and then NPR broadcast a related discussion with a similar outcome, Thursday May 14.  Excerpts and Links are below:

Excerpts from JAMA Pediatrics:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

…[given the current void] “To help inform states and counties that are struggling to make this enormously consequential and urgent decision regarding the fall semester, an expert task force focusing exclusively on school closure should be convened immediately. “

“This panel should include epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, educational scientists, and child psychologists, among others. They should review the state of the evidence regarding horizontal transmission among children and their families [and teachers and staff] , as well as what is known about the feasibility of distance learning and the psychological implications of children continuing to stay at home. Their recommendations should be developmentally framed, taking into account children’s varying needs and cognitive abilities;  kindergarten is not the same as high school.”  —  emphasis added —
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Link to full JAMA Pediatrics Editorial HERE:

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Excerpts from NPR broadcast:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The social-emotional needs of children to connect with other children in real time and space, whether it’s for physical activity, unstructured play or structured play, this is immensely important for young children in particular.” A new study in JAMA Pediatrics, documents elevated depression and anxiety among children under lockdown in China.”

“…[another] major risk… is child abuse. With schools closed and activities canceled, adults who are mandatory reporters, such as teachers, are less likely to catch wind of abuse or neglect. Hospitals around the country are reporting a rise in admissions for severe child abuse injuries and even deaths — a rise that coincides with lockdown orders. And a sex-abuse hotline operated by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network [RAINN] reported that half its calls in March came from minors, for the first time in its history.”
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“…[and further] doubtful that schools, especially in big cities, can reliably enforce social distancing to reduce the number of contacts. “It’s very difficult to explain to children that they shouldn’t stay with their friends or talk with them or be close to each other.”
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“… [four or five very different and conflicting threats, above, varying by developmental stage] are exactly why experts from different backgrounds need to be consulted, so that the risks of reopening schools can be properly balanced with the risks of keeping them closed.

“If we declared the meat supply a national emergency, we should do the same with the brain supply.
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Link to the complete NPR interview HERE:

chairs-classroom-college-desks

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Again:   Join us in a grass roots call for an expert task force to map out strategies and guidelines to re-open schools (Re-Open Schools Experts:  ROSE task force). 

Call or text your representatives in Washington, D.C. today.   Ask for a ROSE task force.

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Daun Kauffman on urban education, on justice, mercy, and love . . . with a humble spirit as the goal.