By Jacqueline Koch
“When I go through the school hallways, some of the kids call out and say ‘Hi, Brain Lady!’” said Natalie Turner, assistant director of the Child and Family Research Unit at Washington State University.
While some students might not recall her name, few forget the lesson Turner brings to the classroom: The brain struggles when overwhelmed by stress or trauma, leading to inappropriate behavior and strained relationships, as well as compromised critical thinking and learning skills. It is important to help children and families affected cope with the ongoing trauma caused by the landslide.
The 2014 landslide disaster left a deep imprint on the children of Darrington. With initial support from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Turner and Washington State University’s Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience (CLEAR) program partnered with the Darrington school district to create and sustain trauma-informed environments through staff development, consultation and support.
“The CLEAR program helps teachers learn empathy and understand what’s driving the behavior of a child that has experienced extraordinary circumstances,” Turner said. “Kids across all grade levels love the class because it’s normalizing their experience and it gives them strategies to ask for help.”
According to Turner, children who are confronted with a traumatic event are especially vulnerable. Their neuro-development can be derailed, affecting the development of critical thinking skills and risking their ability to realize their full potential. As the Darrington community reached out for longer-term recovery assistance and healing, the Red Cross was able to step up with additional funding, expanding CLEAR’s reach beyond the school to include families and the broader community.
“Trauma brings significant challenges, and our children are our future,” said Chuck Morrison, executive director of the Red Cross serving Snohomish County. “Surrounding them with support as they recover from the emotional wounds of the landslide disaster was paramount, for the community and for the Red Cross.”