Helping Traumatized Kids Return to The Classroom After a Disaster

This post draws on experiences and lessons learned from working during the recovery phase of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La 2005.  Disasters are calamitous events, traumatic and customarily outside the scope of normal human experiences and likely to involve psychological and physical injury. Disasters uniquely affect children because they are afflicted not only by the trauma of the event but also by their parents' fear and distress.

When disasters strike, it disrupts the functioning of schools, communities, families, and children’s development. The prolong recovery phase of disaster recovery can impact future development of students and may contribute to a trajectory for weak academic achievement moving forward as the student acclimate to the new— “new!” 

Studies show that childhood exposure to traumatic events can have a profound long-term impact on mental and physical health, high school graduation, and poverty. Stress is inflicted on the developing brain, which can impact social-emotional well-being and force children into survival mode. While a child’s natural response to this trauma may result in difficulty paying attention or regulating emotions, it can often be overlooked or misunderstood ---leading to school suspensions, poor student achievement, or escalation of conflicts.

Today, too few children who experience traumatic events are identified and supported with the right care, and are more likely to have behavioral issues at school including detentions, suspensions, expulsions or dropping out. Learning cannot take place while the child is stuck in a survival mode, and treatment cannot begin until the problem has been properly identified.

  1. When students return to their former schools, their fellow students and former teachers may not be there, due to a multitude of reasons including injury or displacement, this may be deeply unsettling.
  2. Displaced students in new schools and classrooms experience bullying, peer victimization, isolation, or other negative ramifications.

          To mitigate the future effects of disasters, the United Nations and other groups contend that children must be active in disaster preparedness and risk reduction and educated on resilience. This is crucial because children are the single biggest group affected by disasters across the world and thus, have a heavy stake in terms of preparedness and risk reduction. Engaging youth is an integral step in preparing the nation for all hazards. Kids are seen as a trusted source of information, good messengers and can play special roles in communicating preparedness information to their communities, friends, and family, especially in families where English is a second language.

 Children comprise approximately 25 percent of our nation’s population and are the future of our communities. They can play an important role in disaster preparedness and each have the unique ability to help their communities be safer, stronger, and more resilient before, during and after a disaster or

emergency event. As such, we all have a vested interest in engaging and empowering youth to become active participants in individual, family, and community preparedness.

 Youth who are trained in preparedness are more resilient in actual disasters.

  1. Youth are highly effective messengers for reaching and influencing parents and other adults.
  2. Youth who are engaged today will ensure a future generation of prepared adults.

          Additionally, youth have proven to be positive influencers, leaders, and first responders to their families, peers, and neighbors when they take the preparedness message home.

 Disaster Trauma-informed Game-based Learning

 Kids play games, until they go to school and that's when the games stop and often so does the learning in some cases. A panel of educational experts recently gathered at Stanford University concluded using game applications as educational tools provides opportunities for deeper learning while traditional classrooms in many ways stifle some of the attributes most crucial for learning.

 An app game for education is not a matter of dumbing down. PrepBiz educational application helps to develop non-cognitive skills that are as fundamental as cognitive skills in explaining how we learn and if we succeed. Those non-cognitive skills – that is, not what you know but how you behave –are far more important in emergency situations than non-threatening situations.

This type of “ENGAGEMENT LEARNING” is better suited to a game context than to traditional information exchange via textbook context. “Knowledge” is not the "sole tool" we want in emergency situations. The value of having knowledge is knowing how to make choices using that knowledge---which is what PrepBiz teaches. PrepBiz promotes engagement knowledge for emergencies, disasters, and life-threatening situations for better outcomes. PrepBiz gamification is the architect for "engagement knowledge!"

 Engagement knowledge is paramount as the frequency of disasters increases. Kids must feel and know they are and will be safe so that they may embrace school curriculum. Whether a child feels safe and supported can have a significant impact on school performance.

 Gamification has proven to be very successful in engaging people and motivating them to change behaviors, develop skills and solve problems. Educating kids on preparedness isn’t something parents think about daily; however, a majority of parents support educational apps. Millennial parents (born between 1982 and 2004) – as they begin to have children of their own their app choices are shifting to those like PrepBiz that positively benefits their families.

Next generation solutions like PrepBiz is paramount to prepare our future generations that satisfy their increased cognitive needs and emotional charge in emergency preparedness consciousness to keep them and their families prepared, informed and safe so one disaster doesn't lead to another!


In Service,

Kenneth R. Bibbins          Founder/CEO          PrepWorld LLC          New Orleans, La


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