Schools See Fallout from Students’ Home Lives, Take on Trauma

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Classroom Teacher
Fern Seiden, the school counselor at Thorntons Ferry School in Merrimack, posts positive messages for the students about empathy, problem solving and how to calm down. (Courtesy Photo)
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Teachers started seeing it several years ago: More and more students were acting out in class, their behaviors more frequent and more extreme. And it was happening even among the very youngest children.

Now experts are recognizing such behavior for what it is: trauma.

Scientists have learned that exposure to adverse childhood experiences — domestic violence, addiction, child abuse — actually affects brain development. And that puts these youngsters at risk for physical, psychological and social problems.

Now schools across New Hampshire are doing what they can to help.

Kelly Untiet works in the Office of Social and Emotional Wellness at the state Department of Education. About five years ago, she started partnering with schools in Concord, Laconia and Rochester on a project called Safe Schools Healthy Students to address the behavioral health needs of students. And what kept coming up was the role of trauma in the lives of students who were struggling.

“If students are not ready to learn, they are not going to engage, and the education they receive is not going to be as effective or impactful over the long term,” Untiet said.

“But there are also some things that we can do to help course-correct,” she said.

In the past, a child who was behaving badly in school might have been labeled a bad kid…

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