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Parents hope program nurtures Richmond students after trauma

Posted at 10:46 PM, May 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-10 07:56:04-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Avante Dixon finds comfort at Richmond's Jefferson Park with her three children.

"This is what kids are supposed to be doing," said Dixon. "Running around, playing, smiling."

She has seemingly no worries there, as the playground is their escape from reality.

The mother of three lives in one of the city of Richmond’s public housing units.

Dixon said they often encounter violence right outside their front door.

Avante Dixon and daughter

"Someone could run up in our house and hold us hostage," she said.

Dixon doesn't let the children play outside, fearful for what they might see.

"The violence, the gunshots, I don't want them to witness someone being dead lying out on the ground," said Dixon.

The mother said at times she feels hopeless.

"It's so hard," she said. "I just gotta be strong and continue to do what I'm doing, to get my kids out of this neighborhood."

Many students in Richmond Public Schools experience some sort of trauma, which can cause lasting emotional damage.

Avante Dixon

"It's not just the gunshots, it's the domestic violence, the unsettledness in the home," said John Richardson-Lauve, Director of Mental Health and Trauma and Resilience Education. "It's the loss of a kid's brother because his brother got shot last week; it's the loss of a parent because that parent was incarcerated."

Experts said that kind of trauma have a ripple effect.

"We are experiencing community violence that rolls into our school environment and impacts our children and our teachers in sometimes very negative ways," said Angela Jones, Director of Student and Family Services for Richmond Public Schools.

Last summer, Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden made an emergency plea for help in dealing with the increase and impact of trauma experienced by children.

"Dr. Bedden wanted to re-frame the question, let's not ask what's wrong with our children, let's ask what happened to our children," said L. Robert Bolling, CEO of ChildSavers.

In response to this plea, ChildSavers along with SCAN teamed up with Richmond Public Schools to create the RPS Resiliency Partnership.

The effort is starting in Richmond's East End schools where staff will receive training on how to be trauma informed.

"That could be the custodians, the guidance counselors, because all those people that relationships with children when they walk into those schools," said Bolling.

For example, this could mean keeping an eye on a child who can't stay awake, or one who may be acting out in the classroom.

The teachers will be trained in how to respond to the need rather than just reacting to the behavior.

Dixon knows the issue isn't going to be resolved overnight, but she has faith that this program is a step in the right direction.

"What other awakening do we need?" Dixon asked, "We're losing our children."

The program recently received a $500,000 grant from the Robins Foundation.

The next phase of the resiliency partnership will offer more mental health services at schools and will attempt to engage more parental involvement.

That phase is set to launch in September.

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