students running

PUSD Takes Major Steps to Support Children Affected by Trauma

00:00 AM - December 12, 2018

District team members sit at tables in a school gym

PUSD District team members and others take part in the Trauma Informed Practices training at Markham Middle School.

During a recent in-service day at the Placerville Union School District (PUSD), all district team members convened in the multi-purpose room at Markham Middle School to gather comprehensive knowledge and tools to help students who may be facing traumatic challenges. More than 300 people participated and included school administrators, teachers, nurse faculty, bus drivers, maintenance, custodial, coaches, yard duties, and more. PUSD Superintendent Eric Bonniksen welcomed the large group and expressed, “I’m glad to see you here this morning. Everyone connects with our students in some manner, so it’s important for our entire district team to hear this message.”

The Trauma Informed Practices training was delivered by Kelly Rizzi, Director of School and District Support at the Shasta County Office of Education. She began the training by noting, “Toxic stress derails healthy development and changes the wiring in a child’s brain, and our reactions are crucial. This message and material changes lives.” Kelly went on to explain, “Children learn in a natural way when these scientific practices are implemented across the school. We will work together today to create model classrooms and behavior.”

The training lasted for the entire day and included the definition and signs of trauma, trauma’s impact on different quadrants in the brain, interactive exercises, demonstrations on physical activities that can alleviate stress, examples of brain breaks to focus attention properly, student engagement best-practices, adult model behaviors, the importance of self-care and self-regulation, communication and perspective exercises, classroom applications, and much more. Liz Jordan is a kindergarten teacher at Louisiana Schnell School and noted, “Since the training, I have a lot more empathy. I’ve stopped asking kids why they did something, and I am now asking them what happened or what happened to them.”

Valerie Gayman is a bus driver for the district and expressed, “The wealth of what I learned has not only affected the way I interact and care for the students in my charge, but also the way I parent my own children. I gained a priceless toolkit when I attended the seminar, and the new tools are used every day. I can't express how much I appreciate having my eyes opened to the fact that some children come from extremely traumatic situations, and learning how I can help them feel safe and ready to learn at school. Now that I am more aware than before the seminar, I can look at each situation with a gentler and more educated heart. I see a difference in the kids and myself by tweaking my approach and adjusting my own attitude thanks to this training. I truly am richer for it.”

A variety of team members from the El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE) were included, as they work hand-in-hand with PUSD through several programs on their school sites. El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ed Manansala, noted, “Students are impacted daily by their personal experiences, and this professional development will strengthen all of PUSD. Thank you to Superintendent Bonniksen for maximizing this opportunity for system-wide growth.”

Several PUSD board members also took advantage of the training. PUSD board Member and EDCOE mental health clinician, Chris Belmer, thought the time invested in this district-wide training was extremely valuable and noted, “With such an increased need for mental health and trauma-informed practices, the school district took a proactive approach to empower everyone working on campus to learn how to approach all students with this new mindset, learn to recognize the signs of trauma, and to arm themselves with tools to help address those students who need the highest level of support.”

Chris’ strong commitment to spreading awareness about this crucial topic lead her to sponsor Judy Knapp, Director of Prevention Works and Co-founder of El Dorado ACES Collaborative, and they presented jointly on the importance of trauma-informed and social-emotional practices at the California School Board Association’s conference held at the beginning of December. Chris looks forward to supporting this work across El Dorado County and the state.

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