How to Reach Traumatized Students

Here’s my latest in The Atlantic.

When ben started flipping desks in the classroom, his teacher Heather Boyle ushered the rest of her first-grade class into the hallway for safety.

Things had begun to unravel a few moments earlier, when Ben—whose real name isn’t being used, to protect his privacy—struggled with a math lesson. He crawled under desks, bumping into other children’s legs. When his classmates complained, Boyle asked him to come out. “I don’t know how to do this stupid math,” he screamed.

“It’s okay,” she said. “You’re going to come sit with me, and I’m going to help you.” But as his frustrations grew, furniture went airborne. Boyle was forced to clear the room, call the principal for help, and wait until Ben calmed down.

Boyle, who has been teaching young kids since 1997, took charge of a new, trauma-informed classroom in Bartlesville’s Ranch Heights Elementary School: the ATLAS program, or the Alternative Therapeutic Learning Academic Setting. Based on research, and in partnership with a local mental-health center, ATLAS helps kids who have experienced early trauma or dysfunction learn to process and manage emotions so they can return to a typical classroom.

more here.

3 thoughts on “How to Reach Traumatized Students

  1. Great article! My wife was doing a lot of trauma informed interventions at the school she was working at as a school social worker before COVID. She’s a big fan of that approach.


  2. The type of classroom you’re describing is also a huge plus for the students who don’t have behavioral difficulties due to trauma (or due to any other cause — I hope children with difficulties due to brain injury are not excluded). It can be unnerving for students to have to wonder what kind of outburst will lead to a room-clearing, or which fellow student will punch or kick them. One of my daughters had to sit next to a child with an IEP who kicked her multiple times a day, but due to the IEP he could not be removed from the classroom, nor even given a desk away from the other children. He would certainly have benefited from the more focused approach that you saw. As it was, he was accommodated but not helped.

    A large part of the attraction of charter schools is school climate, and a large part of school climate is whether or not students feel protected from the actions of other students.


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