A study completed last year that found that over 60% of Los Angeles-area 6th-graders had witnessed or experienced more than one event that could be considered traumatic, according to the 4LAKids Blog. The study ruled out vicarious acts of violence, such as television, focusing on questions like “How often has someone said they were going to hurt you?” or “how many time over the past year have you been punched or hit by someone?”
While some of the affirmative answers, no doubt, referred to fights with friends or siblings, the data should not be taken lightly, nor should this been seen as a problem unique to Los Angeles. Traumatic experiences can significantly affect a child’s ability to focus, concentrate and participate in school activities, and can lead to chronic depression, PTST and even suicide. Many of these children are experiencing ongoing traumas that are harming their mental health, as well as their academic success.
There have numerous times in my own teaching career when I have referred students for outside services because the effects of their trauma were so obvious. At my first school in a low income San Francisco neighborhood, I had at least one student per month who sat in the back of class with her head down crying. I have had several students who were jumped outside of school. I had one student who witnessed his father murder his mother and another who witnessed a stranger murder his father. I had a student who had seizures whenever her mother was binging on crack. I had dozens of students affected by the San Bruno PG&E explosion, many who were made homeless and one who died. Rape, molestation and abuse at home or in their communities are not uncommon.
The good news is that The Los Angeles Unified School District’s mental health department, along with several partners (UCLA, USC, Rand Corp., and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network), recently received a $2.4-million grant to help students exposed to traumatic events. The money is a drop in the bucket, but could provide the seed for better monitoring and intervention in the future.