On September 5, the San Benito County Office of Education hosted Jessie Fuller of Collaborative Learning Solutions for a three-hour workshop on trauma-informed responses in schools. Fuller, a California League of Schools’ Teacher of the Year, spoke to a room of principals, teachers, therapists, and school staff about the causes of stress, ways it can manifest, and solutions to deal with it.
With the message of “hurt people, hurt people,” she explained that children cannot always tell you they suffer from toxic stress, but that they will express it with bad behavior. Toxic stress differs from normal, even healthy stress such as the kind felt when preparing for an exam or a visit to the doctor, Fuller said. Toxic stress is caused by sexual or other physical abuse, hunger, poverty, addictions in family members, incarceration of a parent and other factors.
The factors causing toxic stress are referred to as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. The more ACEs a child has, the more likely he or she will have behavioral problems, which can be wide-ranging but include shutting down emotionally, missing school, and verbal and physical altercations.
Fuller told BenitoLink that about 50% of children have at least one ACE. She said she wants to empower teachers and other staff who work with students to be “more informed of the prevalence of trauma, know how it affects the developing brain and give them strategies to use to better support students who have been trauma exposed.”
Fuller kept the three-hour workshop going with group activities. Participants got involved in a back-to-back activity similar to musical chairs. Once the music stopped, each person stood back-to-back with a stranger and introduced him- or herself as a way to experience the difficulty a child has opening up.
“She is amazing, her energy is incredible,” said Superintendent of Schools Krystal Lomanto. Lomanto met Fuller last year when she invited her to give a workshop to county school staff. She was so impressed that she invited Fuller back.
Fuller presented several ways to move a child forward. She said she finds that mindfulness and deep breathing can calm a child and help them regroup. She added that telling children how the brain develops helps greatly because it allows them to understand that they do not yet have full control over their reactions and behaviors, nor do they have the cognitive ability to understand the connections. She stressed to participants that when a child opens up and tells their story, it’s best to say “I am sorry,” without any “but” following.
Tres Pinos School principal Bronson LoBue told BenitoLink that she attended a workshop led by Fuller last year and brought her ideas back to the school. She started working with students who were going through trauma, and said she would take what she learned at this workshop back to her school as well. LoBue said learning about the ACEs was the most valuable part of the workshop.
“It was an eye-opener to learn how many issues a kid brings with them to school,” LoBue said.
More follow-up workshops are scheduled to take place from 1-4 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building in Hollister on these dates:
- Sept. 19: Social and Emotional Learning
- Jan. 23: Social and Emotional Learning, and Trauma-Informed Practices
- Feb. 6: Creating More Good Days in the Classroom