Wood Schools continues trauma care training

Elementary school teachers and administrators participate in a training exercise Monday, placing their hands on their heads to indicate different parts of the brain, which give logical versus emotional reactions to events and stimuli. Photo by Michael Erb

PARKERSBURG — Officials say helping children who are dealing with traumatic life experiences requires educators to better understand how to respond rather than react to disruptive student behavior.

Wood County Schools on Monday held a second day of Classroom Emotional Response Training, also known as CERT, for elementary school teachers and administrators at the Caperton Center in Parkersburg. A training session for secondary schools will be held today.

Educators and school systems are working with other agencies to develop plans and programs to deal with childhood trauma. Many students come from homes affected by drugs, alcohol, poverty and loss of loved ones. Some children experience abuse or neglect. All of these struggles make it more difficult for children to learn, and officials say it is more important than ever for schools to address those social and emotional needs while providing a safe and caring environment for students.

Cathy Grewe, coordinator of assessment and student services for Wood County Schools, said traditional punitive measures, such as taking something away or yelling at a child, do not work with trauma-affected youths and can actually trigger more outbursts.

“These kids know punishments. They know put-downs. They know shaming,” she said. “It does not work with these children. The one child that doesn’t get to go on that class trip is the one that needed it most.”

Grewe said it comes down to the difference between reacting and responding. A reaction can be fast and emotional, while a response must be thought out and in the best interest of the student.

“This is something where we have to rethink how we respond,” she said. “Most of our teachers are loving and caring, but we don’t always realize how we’re reacting to our kids.”

Brian Elms, school counselor for Franklin Elementary Center and Madison Elementary School, said educators have to take care to understand their own trauma and experiences and how those affect the way they deal with students.

“You have to know your mental state. You need time to think,” he said.

Elms said discipline should be less about punishing bad behavior and more about giving students the tools they need to correct their own behavior.

“They need those skills, and if they don’t have those skills we need to teach them,” he said.

Teachers asked how they could reach students who came from abusive and neglectful situations. Elms said it can be as simple as sharing a meal or a kind word.

“You want to build a relationship with the student. That takes time,” Elms said. “Start small. The more you understand them, the more you’re going to help them. “

Elms also said teachers must be willing to forgive themselves for those times they don’t respond correctly and to learn from those moments.

“I want you guys to be careful with yourselves and to forgive yourselves,” he said. “If you don’t take care of yourself well, you can’t take care of others.”

CERT sessions are part of a countywide mindfulness training program, which looks at the root causes of behavioral issues and non-traditional practices which reduce stress and help students focus, such as daily yoga classes for students and staff.