Traumatic circumstances and surroundings affect students in different ways, so they can have differing impacts on behavior and the ability to learn, according to Dr. Patsy Carter of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Sedalia School District 200

As a professional development opportunity for Sedalia 200 faculty and staff, Carter on Tuesday morning discussed ways educators can respond to people who have experienced trauma, along with some traits common among trauma sufferers. Carter said trauma-aware schools are more cognizant of how to support students who have experienced neglect, abuse, crime or other negative factors.

Carter said studies have found that trauma can change the structure of the brain and how it works, especially for young learners. To cope with its effects, students frequently adopt behaviors such as substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm and violence.
“If their needs are not met, they may learn that people are not good, they will not meet your needs, you cannot trust them and the world may not be a safe place – particularly if it is not neglect but actually harming (them),” Carter said. “But neglect can have as much impact … as abuse.”

As a result, students’ classroom behaviors can turn to withdrawal, defiance, aggression or an unhealthy quest for perfection. Carter said educators need to build trust with such students, empower them to make some of their own choices and work to make students feel as safe as possible at school.

Carter also encouraged the Sedalia 200 staff to help themselves cope with their own daily stresses.

Pat Sturges, director of health services for Sedalia 200, said: “Children with trauma in their lives are not being willfully disobedient when they act out in the classroom. They are often reacting to something that happened long before they came to the classroom. They need to feel safe in the classroom. If we can understand that one thing and learn some tools to de-escalate situations, then students can remain in the classroom where learning occurs.”

In the photo: Dr. Patsy Carter of the Missouri Department of Mental Health details preferred ways to respond to people who have experienced trauma during her presentation Tuesday morning in the Heckart Performing Arts Center. Carter’s program was a professional development opportunity for Sedalia School District 200 faculty and staff members.