Three area elementary schools are among 11 in the Los Angeles Unified School District to benefit from a $25,000 grant to the Psychological Trauma Center from the Los Angeles-based Ralph M. Parsons Foundation to expand the trauma center’s Share and Care Program.
Locally, the program will help students at Broadway Elementary School in Venice, Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester and Beethoven Street Elementary School in Mar Vista.
The Psychological Trauma Center is affiliated with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
The program is a school-based project that identifies and treats children who are at-risk emotionally and academically because they are direct or indirect victims of a violent or traumatic situation.
The core of Share and Care is group-focused counseling that involves the use of art therapy and group discussions led by an experienced therapist to teach students coping skills to help improve their academic perform- ance and classroom behavior.
Share and Care has been operating in the school district for 12 years and is currently servicing 11 schools throughout Greater Los Angeles.
The Parsons Foundation grant helps supplement the costs of starting the program at Broadway Elementary School and continuing it at Loyola Village and Beethoven Street.
Broadway School, at 1015 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, serves a predominately Hispanic and African-American population.
Beethoven and Loyola Village also enroll a large number of minority students, with many students from the South and Central Los Angeles areas bussed to Loyola Village.
“Many families in the areas we serve struggle with economic challenges as well as having to battle poverty, gangs, drugs and crime,” said Suzanne Silverstein, president and co-founder of the trauma center.
“Our goal is to help these vulnerable students improve their classroom behavior, social skills, self-esteem and resiliency to violence by supporting them to become better learners and stay in school.”
Silverstein is a Marina del Rey resident, and has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s degree in clinical art therapy. She is registered as an art therapist by the American Art Therapy Association.
Psychological Trauma Center is a nonprofit, tax exempt organization founded in 1981 by four mental health professionals who were concerned about the lack of available programs for children impacted by acts of violence or natural disasters.
Silverstein has been active with the center since its inception. The other three co-founders have left the partnership over the years.
Silverstein got the idea to start the center in 1981 after hearing a crime story from a friend who worked at Cedars-Sinai’s psychiatry department.
The friend’s two grandchildren were coping with loss at a preschool where a classmate and his mother had been murdered in their home.
The trauma center’s mission is to help children, teachers, families and other victims cope with traumatic events through crisis and trauma intervention, consultation, training and prevention programs.
Since the trauma center’s inception, volunteer professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and art therapists have provided services at Los Angeles area schools and community organizations to victims directly or indirectly affected by trauma.
Direct or indirect traumatic situations that affect grade school students could involve the death of a relative or pet, divorce, illness, the relocation of the family or of a friend, the changing of schools, a parent losing his or her job, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, domestic violence and neighborhood crime.
Students are referred to their school’s Share and Care Program by teachers, administrators or parents. The program is at Beethoven and Broadway for six hours one day a week and at Loyola Village ten hours a week.
“We see a lot of students who have incarcerated parents and are traumatized because they want the parent home or because they have to walk through dreary prison halls to see the parent,” Silverstein said.
“We also see a lot of students grieving for a relative who died naturally and a lot of students who were born with a mental illness.”
The trauma center received official affiliate status with Cedars-Sinai in 1987. Although the medical center provides no financial support to the trauma center, it does provide professional, advisory and operational support.
In addition to Cedars-Sinai, the trauma center is able to find volunteers among Southern California clinicians through the senior staff’s professional associations with Los Angeles County- USC Medical Center and Thalians Community Mental Health Center.
The trauma center has provided services to businesses and community organizations, but Silverstein said the greatest demand for services has been from Los Angeles area schools.
“Violence-induced trauma is a regular intruder upon campuses throughout Los Angeles,” Silverstein said. “Few teachers and administrators complete a school year without experiencing at least one critical incident in the lives of their students.
“In spite of this, crisis management has not yet been incorporated into teacher training.”
Recognizing educators’ need for assistance in the aftermath of trauma and the need to prepare for a crisis, the trauma center developed four programs for coping with tragedy — crisis intervention, proactive training, Big Ideas and Violence Response: Helping Children Learn/Share and Care.
Trauma center staff provides free on-site crisis intervention consultations to children, teachers, administrators and parents after a crisis. The center developed an intervention model utilizing art therapy techniques in individual and group counseling sessions.
Proactive training by center staff enables teachers and other school personnel to meet the needs of the school community following a traumatic event.
The training focuses on how to identify traumatized students, how to implement specific techniques in the classroom following a traumatic event, how teachers and school personnel can help their colleagues cope, and how teachers and school personnel can help parents help their children.
Big Ideas is an elementary school teachers’ manual developed by the trauma center that provides support and instruction to educators following a traumatic event. This curriculum is intended to be incorporated directly into the classroom learning process through discussion, art, journal writing and role-playing.
The manual is designed to help teachers guide their students through the stages of grief and reduce the harmful effects of trauma by helping students understand what they are feeling, accept what they are feeling and begin the healing process.
Violence Response/Share and Care art therapy sessions are designed to provide supportive and therapeutic environments to aid children in the healing process.
Dr. Spencer Eth, former medical director of the trauma center, conducted a study of 52 children who had witnessed the murder of a parent. He concluded that most of the children suffered severe emotional and learning disorders such as depression, short attention spans, violent behavior, nightmares and memory loss.
Eth wrote in his study that intervention such as individual counseling or group therapy can help prevent those symptoms from becoming a permanent part of a child’s life.
The trauma center has also received national attention for its art therapy sessions at South and Central Los Angeles elementary schools located in crime-ridden neighborhoods and for a post-September 11th program called Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal.
“The Psychological Trauma Center has been recognized as the first of its kind in the nation and the most experienced organization in dealing with children who are indirect trauma victims,” Silverstein said.
“It is with this knowledge and the responsibility it implies that our board and staff continue to strive to best meet the needs of the children in our communities who have been affected by violence.”