Teachers learn to address mental health, trauma

Addressing issues of mental health and trauma can take the back burner in a classroom when teachers only have so much time with their students. This weekend, some area educators are becoming the students themselves and learning how to tackle these important topics.

The 20th annual “Fall for Education Conference” brings those working with children from preschool through 12th grade to La Crosse from across the state. The different breakout sessions are helping the attendees better understand, address and prevent the problems that many young people face.

While the conference organized by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Institute for Professional Studies in Education has touched upon mental health and trauma in the past, it hasn’t been quite as in-depth.

“We just know that mental health and trauma is a huge issue. Not only here in La Crosse and the area and Wisconsin, but throughout the country,” said Dr. Pat Markos, director of professional studies in education.

Despite the prevalence, Markos says that not all teachers have the training to identify and tackle these issues.

“You can’t really teach academic effectively unless you have a handle on what is going on in their life,” Markos added.

It all starts with identifying the source of the suffering. In her breakout group, Barbara Blackdeer-Mackenzie explains how colonization and forced relocation have led to historical trauma in indigenous populations.

“There’s a genetic as well as a social thing that goes on in terms of passing along the pain, anxiety, depression,” Blackdeer-Mackenzie said.

Part of resolving these issues is helping give a voice to the suffering.

“I don’t think that we’re listening to kids enough when they try to tell their stories and they don’t always tell them verbally,” said Deborah Kelly, a substitute teacher.

Cheryl Bartky knows this well as a counselor and dance therapist. She lead a session about using movement to understand trauma.

“And it’s also a pivotal way to hep students move through– literally move through– some of their trauma,” Bartky said.

Researchers with the Center For Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente have found a correlation between childhood traumatic events and increased risk for certain diseases later in life. Lacie Ketelhut, the Trauma Informed Care Community coordinator with Gundersen Health System, presented on some of the key findings.

She says this shows why learning how to approach trauma is so important.

“A lot of my content, while I’m talking to educators, is for all of us. This is all of us as a community need to be working on doing our role to support healthy families,” Ketelhut said.