Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures
Helping Students Cope with Trauma and Loss: Online Training for School Personnel with Helene Jackson, Ph.D.
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This course was edited by Sharon Kay. The project was developed by the Columbia University School of Social Work with support from the Bank Street College of Education.

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In the aftermath of an earthquake, children may be severely traumatized and may need psychological help to recover.

As an educator, you may have experienced one or more of the following examples of trauma in your community and your classroom.


Nearly one year after surviving the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of children in his village and thousands in his region as a whole , 9-year-old Arjun is terrified of going to school. As a result of the disaster and lack of infrastructure, Arjun's school was closed. Months later, the children returned to a new school in a temporary building near the school that was destroyed. There are rumors among Arjun's classmates that on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, there will be another disaster, even more devastating than the last. This time Arjun is convinced that he will die. He doesn't tell his parents or his friends about his anxieties because he thinks they would get angry or make fun of him. However, his teacher has noticed that, unlike the other students, Arjun's mood and behavior has changed. He is irritable and aggressive with his peers, is often absent, and his academic performance has declined.


Sixteen-year-old Emily began the 2001 school year with hope and enthusiasm. Less than one week after school began, she watched in horror and disbelief from her classroom window as a plane crashed into the nearby World Trade Center. Months later, as other students started to return to their normal routine—joining in school and social activities—Emily remained withdrawn and alienated from her peers. Because she finds it hard to concentrate and focus, she is unable to do her homework. She often speaks about the futility of planning for the future because she believes that it holds no happiness for her.

Children directly exposed to a traumatic event are at high risk for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Copyright © Arjun Mehra. All rights reserved.

Reading about Arjun and Emily, you may have found yourself asking some of the following questions: "Are these behaviors normal or are they signs of pathology?" "Why do these students continue to suffer from stress-related symptoms while most of the other students who experienced the same event do not?" "Are these students suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder?" "Should they be referred to the school counselor?"

As you proceed, remember your initial reactions to reading these vignettes. When you have completed Course 1, Part 1, you will have an understanding of how to recognize the risk and protective factors related to trauma, and the signs of normal and unresolved trauma and its impact. You will be well prepared to move on to Course 1, Part 2, where you will learn how to take an active role in helping students, colleagues, and yourself with the psychological impacts of trauma and its aftermath.

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