By Ellie Carter
“Handle With Care” is a collaboration between the Batavia police department and BPS 101 to notify teachers and administrators when a student has been exposed to a traumatic event.
Prolonged exposure to trauma and violence damages children’s ability to focus, behave and learn. It also often leads to academic problems, truancy, being suspended or expelled, dropping out, or being sent to juvenile detention. Forty percent of American children have been victims of violence, and sixty percent have witnessed it, according to Safe2Help Illinois.
“These students understandably lived in a state of constant hypervigilance and fear, leaving school at the bottom of a very long list of more important things to worry about,” said Dr. Lauren Dotson, a former teacher, school administrator, assistant professor, and education department chair at Emory & Henry College.
Handle With Care seeks to help traumatized children before these effects occur.
When a law enforcement officer discovers a minor at the scene of a traumatic event, such as domestic violence, a house fire, or a family death, an email is sent to the district. The email would include the child’s name, age, and school and the phrase “handle with care” to make the student’s teachers aware something has happened to them. This email would not include what specifically happened to the student in order to protect their privacy.
Teachers would then take the appropriate steps to accommodate the student. This would include avoiding upsetting or triggering subjects, allowing the student a space to calm down if upset, sending the student to a counselor instead of the principal if they are acting out, postponing a test, or giving the student extra time to complete their work. The student may also have access to in-school counseling and be taught coping mechanisms. These strategies have been shown to lower students’ stress and anxiety, leading to fewer emotional outbursts and fewer instances of students requiring disciplinary action. Handle With Care seeks to allow every child a safe environment, even if they haven’t been exposed to severe trauma.
“The majority of the students I worked with in terms of discipline … came from less than fortunate home situations, typically having one or multiple experiences with trauma,” Dotson said.
The Handle With Care initiative’s goal is to mitigate the effects of trauma on students if it can’t be outright prevented. It also aims to raise awareness and spread knowledge on the issue of children being exposed to violence.
Teachers often have no way of knowing the personal problems their students are facing. Because of this, the effects of the student’s trauma could be misunderstood, which could make matters worse. This is a problem Handle With Care seeks to reduce.
“We often only see the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our students’ lives. The problem often lies hidden beneath the surface or away from school grounds; in many cases, it will never be fully revealed,” said Dr. Dotson.