Helping Students Cope With The Trauma Associated With Poverty

Good Work, Learning

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study confirms what teachers have long suspected–that children with adverse childhood experiences have lower rates of school engagement and higher rates of chronic disease.

“Exposure to environmental adversity is a primary shaper of development from the cellular to the behavioral and social levels,” said NYU researchers Drs. Blair and Raver.

“In classrooms where lots of kids are under varying degrees of stress, one child acting out can set off other kids and shut down the learning environment for everyone, said Dr. Pam Cantor, “If you have numerous children across the school with issues like that, you can produce a hugely negative culture and shut down learning in the building.”

The solution? Researchers (Bethell et al. 2014) suggest “that building resilience—defined in the survey as “staying calm and in control when faced with a challenge,” for children ages 6–17—can ameliorate the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Blair and Raver found significant evidence that parenting and teaching intervention can be successful in altering the quality of caregiving.

Cantor told the New York Times the intention of the organization she founded, Turnaround for Children (see feature), is to demonstrate that an intentional focus on “nonacademic” skills is a prerequisite for success. “Development of nonacademic skills requires the same intentional and rigorous approach we take to any other instruction, like math or literacy,” said Cantor. “Students need modeling, guidance, support and opportunities to apply these skills just as they do with academics.”

Schools that work with Turnaround hire a full-time social worker and provide time for teacher training. Turnaround sets up a partnership between the school and a community-based mental health provider. The Turnaround team:

  1. Builds a high capacity student support system that gets all children, including those with intense needs, help either in school or in partnership with a community-based mental health provider;
  2. Trains all teachers in proven classroom strategies that foster a safe, engaging learning environment and strong student-teacher relationships; and
  3. Works with school leaders to drive school-wide improvement, aligned to Common Core State Standards and district guidelines, and creates a high performing culture that involves the entire school community.

My colleague Bonnie Lathram coauthored a guidebook for schools on The Role of Noncognitive Skills for Student Success. It described the student-centered Big Picture Learning school model which uses an advisory structure to develop a positive self-concept, realistic self-appraisal, navigation skills.

As a Big Picture advisor, Bonnie helped her students focus on longer term goals, find internships, and identify service opportunities. She said, “Many of my students were also beginning to take down the walls that they had built to protect their insecurities about themselves as learner.” (Watch for a coauthored Monday post on advisories.)

Tyrone Howard, UCLA, noted that “Many districts are taking a closer look at disciplinary data to examine the race and gender breakdown of school suspensions and expulsions.” He added “The goal is not to point fingers, but to identify which teachers disproportionately export and expel those they deem to be “problem students.” It is essential to help these teachers acquire the necessary skills and strategies to respond appropriately and in good measure to disruptive students.”

“Children’s cognitive, social and emotional development is wired,” Cantor added. “If we set up environment to be rich in relationships it will allow that development to flourish — and with that the expression of the full potential in every child.”


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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is author of Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of 4.0 Schools, eduInnovation, Digital Learning Institute, Imagination Foundation, Charter Board Partners and Bloomboard. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


darryl /

Non cog skills need to be taught at home. The teachers simply do not have the time in a 6.5 hour day. There is not enough time for the feel good stuff and math. So pick one!! I pick math!