Ask people in southern Louisiana about 2005, and they’ll likely tell you about something they cannot forget.
Hurricane Katrina.
The historic storm killed more than 1,000 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. More than 14 years later, the neighborhoods in New Orleans may have recovered but tens of thousands of people continue to deal with some form of trauma after watching their city sink beneath the sea and neighbors perish in floodwaters.
Beginning last April, local
educators and mental health care providers traveled to New Orleans to see how the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools program has been addressing trauma in school-age children. As a result of those visits, some local students will soon take part in a pilot program at two area schools to learn how to cope with their own childhood trauma.

The Dickson Board of Education on Tuesday approved the program for some 7th graders, and Lone Grove Primary School will soon begin using the program for 2nd grade students to prepare them for the stresses of advancing to the intermediate school.

The program has been implemented in 14 other states, according to the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools website. Dickson Middle School Principal Jake Melton said the program will start in Oklahoma this month by identifying 7th grade boys who may be dealing with trauma and begin working directly with those students in October.

“We have an inordinate amount of kids who experienced trauma in that 7th grade boys class, so that’s where we’re looking to do it,” Melton told the board on Tuesday.

The program in Dickson will start with teachers identifying boys who could potentially benefit from it. “The teachers already have a relationship with those students,” Melton said by phone on Thursday. Once identified, parents or guardians will then be asked for permission to allow the boys to take part in the program, which is slated to begin next month.

The program will give students about an hour during school each week to meet in small groups and learn how to work through trauma which could have been prompted by the loss of a family member, an absent parent or abuse. Melton said the groups will likely contain between six to eight students, but one-on-one counseling can also be made available.

The groups will be led by mental health professionals from the Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative. Ashley Godwin, the collaborative director, told The Ardmoreite in July that the sessions would have children creating drawings, playing games, and reading books they can relate to in order to identify their feelings.

“The earlier you intervene, the better,” said Dawn Potter, Psy.D., a psychologist based in Cleveland, Ohio. Unlike more passive forms of group therapy, she said cognitive behavioral intervention therapy means students are not simply talking about their feelings. “You want to be teaching communication skills, non-violent conflict resolution, and things like that,” she said.

Lone Grove Primary School Principal Scott Cunningham says 2nd grade students at his school are still being identified for the program. “For a lot of students, moving up is traumatic in itself,” he said. While his school has partnered with social workers from Lighthouse Behavioral Wellness Centers for over three years, that staff often undertakes several roles.

“I didn’t want to go to schools and see unlimited resources,” Cunningham said of his first investigation into the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools program. He said the success the program had in New Orleans, however, suggested to him that it could be effective for students in southern Oklahoma.

The pilot programs are expected to last through next spring. “You may or may not see an immediate payoff,” Cunningham said. Regardless, educators and health care providers are actively searching for tools to better prepare southern Oklahoma youth for whatever life throws at them.

In Dickson, Melton believes lessons in coping mechanisms may have a place in the classroom. “They need something we’re not able to give them, and we think this is something that will give those kids something they’re not getting anywhere else.”