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A New Layer of Trauma for the Nation's Children: Dangerous Wildfires (Ed Week)

 

By Catherine Gewertz, September 15, 2020, Education Week.

The coronavirus has shattered the familiar routines of life and school for students and teachers across the country, and subjected millions to the stresses of illness, lost jobs, and isolation. But in 10 Western states, thousands of children and the adults who educate them are reeling from yet another layer of trauma: wildfires.

In some districts, children who'd been chomping at the bit to see their friends at school have been told they'll be stuck at home learning on a computer, for the time being. In some places, schools have shut down entirely, unable to manage remote instruction or distribute grab-and-go meals. In the worst cases, families have had to flee as flames drew too near for comfort. Some have returned to intact homes; others only to ash and scattered belongings. Still others are living with question marks, unable to return home.

"When it comes to trauma, the old saying, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' isn't true," said Robin Gurwitch, a professor of psychology at Duke University who studies the effect of trauma on children. "It's a cumulative impact." The more trauma people experience, "the more at-risk they are for health and mental impacts."

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