Photo by Forgiven Photography

When a child steps foot into a classroom, he carries with him the rest of his world. Although school is only one aspect of his life, he enters the room reflecting all dimensions. Children are expected to perform, yet they also have to rely on adults to set them up for success. In order to thrive, every child needs a home that provides a stress-free environment with an emotionally-present, attuned adult who monitors his daily life in a healthy manner.

Unfortunately, most children don’t get this. Instead, most children are experiencing trauma. Two-thirds of children to be exact.

According to the CDC, approximately 64% of people experience at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and 22% have experienced 3 or more ACEs.

The 10 ACEs that have been measured are: abuse (physical, sexual or verbal), neglect (physical or emotional), having a family member who has a mental illness, witnessing a mother being treated violently, having a family member who is incarcerated, having a family member who is an addict, or losing a parent to separation, divorce, or other reasons. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Justice has called the amount of children exposed to violence an epidemic. As you can see, the scope of trauma is quite vast.

“The challenges [children] face in school, life and ultimately, the state of their health are often the symptoms of toxic stress. Toxic stress, unlike manageable stress, refers to the long-term changes in brain architecture and organ systems that develop after extreme, prolonged and repeated stress goes untreated.”  (Center for Youth Wellness)

How can we expect our children to learn and succeed if they are experiencing stress and anxiety in the classroom? How can we discipline our children for their behavior when we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg? Why are we taking a cookie cutter approach to education?

To ignore the data on what our children are going through is to ignore our kids’ needs and a crucial component for learning. It means ignoring kids like Danny.

The solution is creating trauma-informed schools. These are schools that take into account the needs of children who have experienced ACEs and have adjusted their policies in accordance. These are schools that address behavior by bringing children IN rather than utilizing disciplinary actions based in rejection and shame. Trauma-informed schools educate their staff on what is really going on with their students beyond what’s on the surface. They are schools that ensure their students feel safe – not only physically but also emotionally. They provide a culture of empathy and safety. They set their students up for success rather than failure.

Educators in Massachusetts, Washington State, New York and Pennsylvania are getting it. Is your school? If you are an educator or a parent, how would your school rate on being trauma informed? How many ACEs have your children or students experienced? You can find out the ACE score of you, your children or your students here.

If we want our kids to reach their fullest potential, we must advocate for reform in our education system. Education is a fundamental human right, but it’s a right to excel – not fail.

For more resources: Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Project Bond, Why Schools Need to Be Trauma-Informed, ACEs Too High

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