Book Review: Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students: A Guide For School-Based Professionals

By Melissa Morrissey, Hope Learning Academy, Springfield, IL

Book Review: Rossen Eric and Robert Hull, editors. Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students: A Guide For School-Based Professionals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 313 pp. ISBN (paperback): 978-0-19-976652-9.

Professionals who work with children are identifying more and more children who have been affected by trau-ma. Schools and other social service agencies may feel overwhelmed by the aftereffects of trauma in chil-dren’s lives. Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students was designed with the harried educator in mind, the professional who is in need of resources to support traumatized students on a daily basis. The edi-tors, Eric Rossen and Robert Hull, have gathered contributions from professionals in a range of disciplines, including classroom teachers, counselors, school psychologists, facility administrators, doctoral students, and university professors. The book, which is divided into three parts, addresses strategies for students whose life challenges are widely varied, such as homelessness, exposure to domestic violence, death of a loved one, the military deployment of a parent, the incarceration of a parent, and the devastation of natural disasters.

The editors recognize that their book is not a cure-all for every student who is experiencing traumatic stress. Rather, they write that their book is “intended to support and supplement empirically based interventions for traumatized students, for which there are several.” Moreover, they hope “to empower educators who typically do not have the skills, training, or time in a school day to provide clinically oriented interventions” (p. ix, em-phasis in original). The editors have accumulated wide-ranging experiences in a variety of clinical and aca-demic settings. Eric Rossen holds a Ph.D. in School Psychology (University of Florida) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and licensed psychologist in Maryland. He has extensive experience working in public schools as well as in private practice. He has taught at both University of Missouri and Prince George’s Community College. Robert Hull, EdS, MHS, has spent three decades working with students overseas and in school settings that range from rural to suburban to urban, including those with diverse populations. He has been a special education administrator and state-level administrator of school psychology, and currently teaches graduate courses at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

The first section of the book consists of three chapters that define the parameters of trauma and how it may affect children in a school setting. In Chapter 1, contributor Margaret E. Blaustein, for example, offers a useful “Framework for Intervention” after discussing in detail the prevalence of trauma among school-age children and how trauma can impact learning. She writes, “Despite these significant challenges, it is a tenet of this chapter—and of this text—that the addressing of trauma within school settings is not only feasible but also fully consistent with and supportive of the primary goals of academic programs” (p. 13).

Chapter 2 reviews research pertaining to trauma’s impairment of cognition from a neurobiological perspective, and its authors stress the importance of self-care for teachers and others who interact with traumatized chil-dren on a daily basis. Ron Hertel and Mona M. Johnson write, “[M]uch like we are instructed to do while flying in a commercial airplane, we must first put our oxygen masks on before we attempt to put them on those for whom we have assumed responsibility. . . . Practicing self-care for educators is not only important; it is vi-tal” (p. 33). Hertel and Johnson then provide a list of specific areas that should be addressed via self-care, including physical, financial, and spiritual.

The second section, by far the longest with 13 chapters, focuses on various sources of trauma in children’s lives. Each chapter looks at a specific population of traumatized students, such as immigrant, homeless, ne-glected, and those who are suffering due to substance-abusing parents, incarcerated parents, deployed par-ents, the death of a loved one, and students who have been victims of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Each of the chapters in this middle section has essentially the same format, which facilitates easy use. They include a data-rich introduction, developmental considerations, cultural and religious considerations, strategies to support students, a brief conclusion, Web resources, and selected children’s literature.

At the same time, each chapter has subsections that are unique to a discussion of its particular population of students. Chapter 10, for instance, written by Jarena G. Fleischman, speaks to children who are anticipating the death of a loved one, and Fleischman includes subsections on coping strategies at each stage of illness and death. Also, the chapters include a vignette describing a student who is suffering from a specific traumat-ic situation. In Fleischman’s chapter the vignette is a first-person account by a 15-year-old named Alyson who writes about her experiences with bereavement and mourning. Fleischman draws from Allyson’s story, “This further supports the importance of not simply assuming a student’s behavior is due to an underlying disability, problem with authority, or lack of motivation—instead, educators can benefit from understanding common reactions or signs of distress and using that to determine when to reach out to a student’s fami-ly” (p. 141).

Other noteworthy highlights from the central section include Lyn Morland, Dina Birman, Burna L. Dunn, Myr-na Ann Adkins, and Laura Gardner’s discussion of immigrant children (Chapter 4): “A number of children ar-rive in this country with their education interrupted by war and migration, or who may never have had access to formal education for economic or cultural reasons. . . . These children have the additional burden of need-ing to make up for lost years of schooling” (p. 56). Another highlight is Dorothy Rohde-Collins’s examination of students facing community violence (Chapter 6): “Caregivers also frequently have trouble making sense of the violence and may feel inadequate because they are unable to shelter their children or prevent them from witnessing violence and crime. Caregivers express a lack of trust of outsiders, including police, doctors, so-cial service workers, and teachers, particularly in violent urban communities” (p. 96). And there is Courtney D. Carter’s insights regarding children from military families (Chapter 12): “While leniency and understanding are important, it’s equally important to maintain high expectations for a student’s academic performance. . . . As a result of frequent deployment, the student of a military family may have experienced different curricula across schools, leading to gaps in education” (pp. 178-79).

The final section, with its three chapters, balances well with the opening section as it explores administrative and policy considerations which foster resiliency. In Chapter 17, Joel M. Ristuccia offers advice on creating safe and supportive school settings. He stresses that the effectiveness of a school depends in large part on how well trained the staff is when it comes to trauma-related issues. He encourages a variety of useful topics for staff workshops, and among them are setting limits and clear boundaries, reducing bullying, understand-ing the link between emotion and behavior, and building on students’ strengths (p. 258). Ristuccia concludes, “Schools that are narrowly focused on academic achievement and student behavioral control to achieve safety and order do not provide a safe and supportive school, but instead have created an intolerant school culture” (p. 261).

The final chapter is devoted to equipping students to deal with trauma after they have left the school environ-ment. Specifically, George S. Everly, Jr., and Rachel M. Firestone offer advice for developing resilience. They write, “Resiliency can be described within a three-point continuum: resistance, resiliency, and recovery. Each notion along this continuum is connected with a very specific meaning” (p. 290). They underscore in their conclusion developing resiliency is “a constant and dynamic process and is integral to preventative mental health care. . . . With children who have experienced trauma, we must legitimize the experiences and their effects while continuing to push children forward” (p. 296).

Overall, Supporting and Educating Traumatized Students is thoughtfully organized, thorough in its scope, visually appealing, and carefully indexed. There is a professional consistency from chapter to chapter even though they have been collected from numerous contributors. The chapters are fully documented with notes and references, and taken together the book provides an impressive bibliography. Rossen and Hull have cre-ated a valuable resource for those who work with traumatized students—which is practically everyone in the field of education—and in the process have done a great service for children and young people suffering the devastating effects of trauma.