Nevada Educators Examine Student Trauma

Mar 14, 2016

Credit Kenwyn Derby / Twitter

More than 200 educators from across the state met in Reno recently to discuss updating their curriculums to help kids overcome the effects of trauma. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick has more.

Victoria Blakeney is with the new state Office of Safe and Respectful Learning Environments, and was one of more than a dozen presenters. She says that Nevada kids are experiencing trauma at higher rates than the national average.

“Our data shows that kids, more than half, are coming from at least one ACE.”

By that, she means adverse childhood experience. According to Blakeney’s research, more than 10 percent of kids in Nevada report not having enough food to eat, nearly 10 percent of high school students have attempted suicide, and nine percent of kids statewide have been physically forced to have sex against their will.

“If we could understand the preponderance of what our kids go through, we would stop teaching to the kid who didn’t go through that,” Blakeney says.

Blakeney hopes these initial discussions will help schools teach all kids appropriate social and emotional skills, like anger management and relationship building.

Another presenter at the event was Erika Ryst, with the University of Nevada School of Medicine. She says that trauma has a profound impact on brain functioning.

“It sensitizes neurotransmitters in the brain involved in the threat response,” Ryst says. “And so both kids and adults who have been exposed to trauma are more sensitized to have more extreme emotional reactions.”

Ryst says it’s a good practice for adults to check their own emotions before intervening with students, but that it’s even more important to update school curriculums with skills that help kids thrive.

“I think the old educational model was that school is just about academic curriculum. But the truth is that if kids don’t learn that critical social emotional piece, they’re not going to do well in academics, and probably even more important, they’re not going to be effective as adults.”

The state recently passed a bill to hire over 150 school social workers, to help kids who have experienced trauma.

Where do the numbers come from?

Blakeney cites a variety of sources, including the 2015 Nevada High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) Report, the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, the Children's Defense Fund and the National Center for Children in Poverty.

For more information, you can visit the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning Environment's website.