Creating a Safety Net for a Wide Range of Traumas
Claudia Rojas (bio) discusses the types and effects of traumas experienced by students at the Community Health Advocates School, a trauma-informed high school.
So here at the Community Health Advocates School our students come with different sorts of traumas and I could honestly say that on a daily basis we're dealing with something. So it ranges. We are currently dealing with bullying, whether it's face-to-face bullying or cyberbullying is a huge issue right now at our school. We're dealing with victims of child abuse, homelessness, runaways, prostitution, students who have experienced seeing a family member be shot or have been shot themselves, sometimes death in the family, sometimes because of illness, long-term illness, or violence in the community.
We have children who are in foster homes or group homes and so helping them deal with just the impact of not having parents. A lot of our students are being raised by grandparents. A lot of our students are on probation, they've already been in trouble with the law and so that brings a whole different dynamic and "How do I grapple with that and also focus on coming to school every day and studying?"
The other thing is poverty. That's trauma that students face when they don't have enough food to eat sometimes. We realize that the food we provide at school is sometimes the only meal that they'll have, which also is the reason we decided to be one of the only high schools in Los Angeles Unified School District to provide breakfast in the classroom. We wanted to do that because — what that is is we'll bring the breakfast into their advisory where they're having their community circles and they get to break bread with their peers and their teachers. Then hopefully, if every student eats, we know that at least they started off with breakfast in their bellies before they start their classes.
We worry about the traumas that students are faced with greatly, because we understand that if we're not addressing the needs that arise out of a student who has experienced trauma, then it's going to be so much more difficult for us to get them to be able to focus and concentrate and really learn. So that's why for us, building community, creating resources for them or not so much creating but tapping into resources, having communication with parents and families and also helping families when they're affected by whatever it is, the issues that they're experiencing. You know when you start to put all of those things together then it makes it easier for the student to really succeed.
I mean that's really our goal right, to make sure they graduate from high school number one and that they're prepared to go to college, because obviously if they are able to go to college, they'll attain post-secondary education and then be able to contribute positively to their family and their community and then obviously to our larger society.
Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.