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Bank Street Helps Ease Lingering Sandy Trauma

Posted by Nicholas Gray on May 23, 2013

Teddy bears used as "transitional objects"

Staff from Community and Family Head Start experiencing the therapeutic value of having transitional objects, in the form of teddy bears, in traumatic times.

Bank Street’s Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP), led by Lesley Koplow, “provides ongoing professional development and on-site consultation to early childhood programs and elementary schools in the area of early childhood development. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, ERP received a grant of $50,000 from the Robin Hood Foundation to work with two elementary schools and a Head Start center in Far Rockaway, aiding children and staff whose lives were upended by the storm’s devastation.

The New York Zero-to-Three Network, an organization supporting healthy early childhood development, recently honored Lesley with the Emily Fenichel Award for Leadership, celebrating her work with infants, toddlers, and families.

Here, Lesley talks about the nature of her work, and about easing the effects of trauma to help communities recover.

How did ERP get involved with Sandy recovery efforts?

There were schools that we knew about and worked with in Far Rockaway before the storm. There was one where water broke the windows, flooded the first floor.... The kids had no electricity for weeks. Many of the teachers live in Far Rockaway, so it was bad for everybody.

Another school that we knew reached out and said, “this is what we’re going through, and can you be helpful?” I had applied for several grants, and Robin Hood responded, and gave us money to work with these three schools.

What does that work include?

We go into the schools weekly, and we have several techniques that we teach people to use to help kids. One of those techniques is called “transitional objects”—in this case, teddy bears—and we do a whole curriculum around something to be attached to in processing difficult experiences. We do this work in many schools and many places, not always around trauma, but there’s a way to use it specifically for trauma that we’re putting into practice in designated classrooms.

We are also doing support for teachers who have children themselves who may still be traumatized and showing difficulties for everyday life. We have an on-site consultant on hand for when people need someone to talk to.

We do a professional development to start, so that when we’re not there the teachers will know how to use the teddy bears and work with kids.

What are those environments like, and how are people coping?

Lesley Koplow, Emotionally Responsive Practice, Bank Street College

Lesley Koplow

What we know happens is that when the adults are undone, kids will sometimes glue it together enough. But when adults start to function again, kids feel safe enough to have their reactions. One principal said it had seemed fine for a time immediately after Sandy hit, and several months later it seemed less fine for the kids.

We often work in high-needs communities and we deal with trauma frequently, but usually we’re working with multiple issues based on what kind of support the community needs. But, what we know about trauma is that kids who have had prior trauma are the ones who are the most susceptible to post-traumatic stress, and the same holds true for the teachers. So in high-poverty communities like some that we see in Far Rockaway, the chances that those children have observed violence or experienced some kind of previous trauma are greater. Which is why a lot of our work is ongoing.

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tagged: 0-3, development, disasters, infancy, toddlers, trauma