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Trauma in the lives of some students closes the door on learning

The negative impact of student trauma on learning was the focus of training at the Longview Center.

      The school year ended weeks ago but dozens of Mansfield City Schools administrators and teachers gathered Tuesday to hear an expert explain how trauma impacts a child’s ability to learn.

      “Students today experience many scary events that can affect the way they act at school,” said Melissa McClain of Akron Children’s Hospital. “Sources of trauma include divorce, bullying, abuse and neglect or experiencing or witnessing violence in neighborhoods.”

      McClain, the hospital’s community education program coordinator, led a day-long discussion of how educators can recognize trauma and react to it in a positive way.

      Her detailed presentation included technical explanations of how specific elements of the brain – amygdala, homeostasis and hippocampus – react to emotions and store memories. Then she brought the discussion to the classroom level, emphasizing that traumatic reactions can occur without warning.

      “A child’s memory may relate an expression on your face to something bad which triggers a response that you may not understand,” McClain said. “When the brain is focused on surviving, it doesn’t want to think about anything else.”

      Stephen Rizzo, the district’s chief academic officer, said each school was asked to create a trauma team and those teams were represented at Tuesday’s program at the Longview Center.

      “Our focus is on raising awareness of trauma that students may be experiencing and give our principals and teachers the tools needed to cope with it,” Rizzo said. “Students who are having difficulty dealing with trauma can’t learn.

      “It was a nice turnout,” Rizzo said of the training. “Ms. McClain will return in August for a follow-up session. Our ultimate goal is to improve learning.”

      McClain’s visit to Mansfield was one in a series of free training programs she has conducted for school districts throughout northeast Ohio. The sessions are funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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