What Kids Need in the Classroom

This article originally appeared on MSU Denver RED.

With the psychological and economic pressures of Covid-19, increased gun violence, systemic racism, political polarization and, most recently, the financial stresses of inflation, many adults are struggling with their mental and emotional health. It’s no wonder that children, too, are experiencing more trauma than ever.

Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association jointly declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health due to “soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and suicidality” caused by Covid-19 and other factors. Trauma such as physical abuse, bullying and witnessing violence will often contribute to higher anxiety and negatively impact attention, memory, cognition, problem solving, reading ability and academic performance, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

“Trauma is not always physical,” said Jocelyn DelRio, who graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2021 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. “Conceptualizing it is super-, super-important. If a child is behaving a certain way, the question is how to approach that child to nourish them. Everything I can do to help them feel safe and loved, that is what I’ll do. That’s what they’ll find in my classroom’s four walls.”

The School of Education incorporates trauma-informed practices into its education curriculum, said Christine Muldoon, Ed.D., director of the Office of Education Solutions. “We incorporated TIP and put an equity lens to it. We wanted to ensure that we were also being culturally responsive.”

For these efforts, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities recently awarded the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award to MSU Denver’s School of Education. This national award honors teacher-education programs that have done an exemplary job using evidence of their graduates’ impact on learning outcomes to inform improvements to their programs.

“A TIP is built on having a high EQ (emotional intelligence) and compassion while still pushing students to achieve their highest potential,” said Muldoon. “To give them a pass is to disrespect the student. It’s about saying, ‘We respect where you come from, and we still have high expectations.’”

Trauma-informed care provides educators with a deeper awareness of key trauma-related concepts and a greater understanding of trauma’s effects on behavior and helps students learn deescalation tactics. These practices then help kids build coping skills and self-efficacy, which are important whether or not a child has experienced trauma.

Photo by Alyson McClaran

Haley Conley, a mathematics teacher at Alameda Junior/Senior High School who received her Math degree with Secondary Education Licensure from MSU Denver in 2021, said TIPs are vital for Title 1 schools (those receiving federal funds because of their high percentage of students from low-income backgrounds) because their student bodies have a wider breadth of experiences.

“(We have) kids who’ve immigrated from war-torn countries and kids who’ve lived in the dilapidated apartments down the street their whole lives,” she said. “TIP helps you better relate to all the kids — it’s about equity.”

Thanks to her TIP training, she quickly realized during her first year of teaching that children acting out in the classroom is rarely the fault of the teacher.

“I realized how important it is to talk issues out with the students rather than just sending them out of the classroom,” Conley said.

It’s all about practicing compassion, DelRio added.

“Life is traumatic, and to ignore the things these students go through is to teach them not to confront difficult situations (and to) hide their feelings and emotions and suppress their anger,” said DelRio. “TIP helps us to meet students where they are and hopefully gives them better coping skills.”

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