Post-Harvey, Houston Teachers Learn to Respond to Trauma

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UNICEF USA, Mental Health America of Greater Houston & Kognito Launch Interactive Role-Playing Program One Year after Hurricane Harvey

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One year after Hurricane Harvey, Houston-area teachers have a new tool to respond to children who have experienced trauma or distress through a new online professional development program. The program was developed through a collaboration between UNICEF USA, Mental Health America of Greater Houston (MHA of Greater Houston), and health simulation company Kognito.

The program, titled Trauma-Informed Practices for K-12 Schools (TPS), is a 30-45-minute online simulation that builds educators’ awareness of the effects of trauma and teaches effective ways to respond to students who may be experiencing distress as a result of a traumatic experience. It allows educators to practice responding to virtual students in distress using an innovative conversation platform developed by Kognito.

Over two-thirds of children in the U.S. have reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. Signs of traumatic stress affect children’s behaviors at home and in the classroom, with many effects that last into adulthood. Adverse childhood experiences can include sudden loss of a loved one, serious accidents or illness, community violence, abuse or neglect, and natural disasters as in the case of Hurricane Harvey. The new simulation was completed in time for the 2018-19 school year, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Both events have the potential for triggering renewed trauma among those who lived through the storm and its aftermath.

“We have been involved with Hurricane Harvey relief since shortly after the storm made landfall, including training educators to support traumatized children. This program is an important extension of those efforts,” said Caryl M. Stern, President, and CEO of UNICEF USA, which provided funding for the program. “With this tool, we can support children and their long-term recovery from adverse events. Already we’ve seen an increase in teachers’ understanding of the storm’s impact on students, as well as their ability to provide related emotional support in the classroom.”

UNICEF USA funding includes access to the simulation at no cost for all 31 Houston-area school districts and other community and faith-based organizations which are members of MHA of Greater Houston’s Center for School Behavioral Health (CSBH) Collaborative, representing more than 57,000 educators serving 940,000 students.

Over 3,000 educators have been trained since the August 1 launch. Fort Bend Independent School District recently announced plans to train all 10,000 of its employees with a 90-minute version that combines TPS with Kognito’s At-Risk mental health training simulation, recognizing its value not only for natural disaster response but also for dealing with the fallout from other traumatizing events such as school violence. Following the success of this Houston pilot, TPS will be available for purchase for schools and districts nationwide later this fall.

Trauma experts worked with Kognito on the content for the new simulation, including Dr. Marleen Wong of the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, Dr. Julie Kaplow of the Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Fritz Affolter of UNICEF, along with Janet Pozmantier, Director of the MHA of Greater Houston’s Center for School Behavioral Health.

“Children everywhere are coping with adverse childhood experiences, but Hurricane Harvey caused massive emotional upheaval across the entire Houston metropolitan area,” said Pozmantier. “Teachers and staff can provide a critical support system if they understand how to recognize and respond to students in distress. We view TPS as having an important role in assisting teachers in developing positive student relationships that facilitate learning.”

The content for TPS was developed based on real-world examples and trauma response strategies provided by internationally known trauma experts, teachers, counselors, nurses, and other school-based mental health professionals who are part of MHA of Greater Houston’s CSBH Collaborative. Members of the CSBH Collaborative also played an instrumental role in piloting the initial simulation and providing feedback for further product development.

“The new TPS simulation will help us prepare schools that are ready to support not only children affected by Hurricane Harvey, but also those who experience chronic trauma and common life stressors,” said Ron Goldman, CEO, Kognito. “Our user testing showed that the simulation prompted users to think and behave differently when confronted with students showing signs of trauma at school. That’s a strong endorsement of our approach and the impact it can have on a student’s life.” More information on Kognito’s simulations is available at https://kognito.com/products.

About UNICEF
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit http://www.unicefusa.org.

About Mental Health America of Greater Houston
Mental Health America of Greater Houston is the leader in creating change that improves the health of our community for generations. We accomplish this through groundbreaking collaborations, education, advocacy and initiatives that support key populations such as veterans, school children, and expectant and new mothers. MHA of Greater Houston seeks to normalize open discussion about mental and behavioral health, replacing misperceptions and misunderstanding with compassion and knowledge, and removing barriers to mental health treatment through systems and public policy changes. MHA of Greater Houston currently leads groundbreaking collaboratives on school behavioral health and on integrated health care that are improving the way mental health issues are addressed in schools and health care organizations in Greater Houston. Established in 1954 by philanthropist Ima Hogg, MHA of Greater Houston is the area’s longest serving mental health education and advocacy organization. For more information, visit https://mhahouston.org/.

About Kognito
Kognito is a health simulation company whose evidence-based simulations harness the power of role-play conversations with virtual humans to improve social, emotional, and physical health. Learn more at kognito.com.

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