Last Tuesday, the School on Wheels community was joined by a panel of community leaders, representing a range of professional backgrounds but united by their passion for helping Indianapolis’ students. These panelists included:

  • Lori Desautels, Ph.D., an assistant professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Marian University
  • Andrew Plummer, a School on Wheels tutor at the Salvation Army Ruth Lilly Women’s and Children’s Center
  • Sheila Dollaske, a 2015 Mind Trust Innovation School Fellow and former IPS Principal of the Key Learning Community
  • John M. Kunzer, MD, MMM, FAAP, President & CEO, Eskenazi Medical Group and Chief Medical Officer, Eskenazi Health Center
  • Charie L. Gibson, the McKinney-Vento Liaison for Indianapolis Public Schools

The panel began by exploring the effects of trauma on children, and panelists provided sobering statistics and narratives of the toll trauma can take.

We learned from Dr. Lori Desautels about how trauma activates the amygdala, the area of the brain responsible for protecting us. While this part of the brain is active, the prefrontal cortex – which aids in learning – is unable to absorb new information. Dr. John Kunzer provided a poignant quote from Dr. Laura Gottlieb of San Francisco about how medical training does not prepare physicians for the realities their patients face while living in poverty:

“I had diagnosed ‘abdominal pain’ when the real problem was hunger; I confused social issues with medical problems in other patients, too. I mislabeled the hopelessness of long-term unemployment as depression and the poverty that causes patients to miss pills or appointments as noncompliance. In one older patient, I mistook the inability to read for dementia. My medical training had not prepared me for this ambush of social circumstance.”

Despite the difficulties children face after experiencing trauma, however, the panel reiterated the opportunities to make a difference in the life of a student. 

So, how can you serve as an advocate for children experiencing trauma? Here are some practical tips from each of our panelists:

  1. Validate your student’s feelings.
  2. Teach students about their brain – it’s empowering!
  3. Harness the power of a deep breath.
  4. Read Christian Moore’s The Resilience Breakthrough: 27 Tools for Turning Adversity Into Action.
  5. Simply be there; the one-on-one attention allows students to “feel felt.”
  6. Do what you say you’ll do.
  7. Have consistent conversations (and let the student do most of the talking).
  8. Model healthy coping mechanisms, instead of instructing students to minimize their emotions.
  9. Ask students what they like about themselves.

While these actions may seems small in the moment, the return on that investment of time and attention can be significant. Dr. Desautels provided insights on the brain that show just how much good can come from one interaction.  As she described, “the brain has plasticity,” meaning that it is experience-dependent and can change over time. For our students, the implication of this plasticity is that just one strong emotional experience can fundamentally change how a child sees themselves.

As a community, we can work together to help all of our students feel confident in saying, “I’m ready for the world!”

Did you miss our 2016 Education Panel? Here are a few ways to stay involved:

Check out the highlight video and the full event recording on Youtube!

Check out our Storify from the event.

Apply to become a member of SPOKES, School on Wheels’ community outreach group that put on the Education Panel!