Thursday, March 26, 2015



by Pia Escudero, Director, LAUSD School Mental Health, from the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Weekly Update | week of April 30 |

26 April 2015  ::   Administrators are responsible for a multitude of complex and interrelated systems including those that address barriers to learning. One barrier that significantly impacts a student’s ability to learn and a teacher’s capacity to provide quality instruction is trauma. The impact of these exceptionally distressing experiences can cause severe emotional shock that affects students differently and manifests itself in a variety of ways such as unwillingness to participate, negative behaviors, substance abuse, withdrawal, depression and anxiety.

During the 2014-15 school year, 800 students from multiple school sites and Wellness Centers were screened. These students (98%) reported experiencing one or more stressful or traumatic life events in the past twelve months. The same data identified at least half of the students with moderate to severe symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This includes symptoms such as feeling future events will not come true (57%), not wanting to do things (57%), feeling irritable/fits of anger (49%), trouble sleeping (49%) and trouble concentrating (45%).

As adults, we rely on years of life experiences to carry-on in the aftermath of a stressful event. Our ability to cope is a learned trait that improves with time. Children, on the other hand, are in the process of developing their ability to cope with life stressors. Students who experience traumatic events often face circumstances which impede their coping skills development and/or contribute to developing unhealthy coping strategies. School administrators, teachers and support staff must understand the complexity of trauma and its effects on learning, as well as, how they can support students during traumatic experiences, help to build resiliency and to learn appropriate coping skills.

By now, you may have supported a student mourning the death of a parent or sibling; or have comforted a classroom of students that witnessed a violent incident in their community; or have visited a student in the hospital due to a life-threatening illness. In these instances, perhaps without you knowing, you likely applied elements of Psychological First Aid (PFA):

  • listen,
  • protect,
  • connect,
  • model
  • and teach.

The PFA model is a tool for all school personnel to use when responding to a student in the aftermath of a stressful incident. The purpose of PFA is to promote long-term resilience and coping skills in children. See below or to access a copy of LAUSD PFA.

Each of us can help when someone is in crisis, simply by our presence. One does not need to be a mental health professional or have specific training; showing empathy, genuine concern and a willingness to listen is enough. It is important to remember to be aware of your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Do not share your personal experiences with students in crisis. Model calm and optimistic behavior.

There is also support available to assist in addressing crisis and issues requiring professional counseling. Under the Division of Student Health and Human Services (SHHS), there are trained professionals such as psychiatric social workers, pupil services and attendance counselors and school nurses, as well as, Healthy Start navigators to help connect administrators with Wellness Centers and Mental Health Clinics. Additionally, schools may have academic counselors and other support services that can be of assistance.

The SHHS’s School Mental Health (SMH) department is a national leader in addressing the mental health needs of students. SMH can provide assistance when needed. ESCs also have mental health consultants who are available to support and train school-site staff. SMH is available to provide universal, targeted and intensive services to students across LAUSD. See Below or for a thorough description of services.


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