By Sean Corcoran
to an audio version of this
With about 600 students in grades three through six, the Quashnet School
Mashpee is bigger than many of the Cape's high schools. Students come from all
different ethnic and financial backgrounds, and with such a large and varied population,
administrators are faced with the challenge of creating a sense of safety and community
Each morning around 8:25, four students go down to the principal's office at the
Quashnet School and gather around a loudspeaker microphone for the Pledge of
In addition to the Pledge, the joke of the day and the rundown on the lunch menu, the
program also includes the recitation of the student creed, which the school's new
principal, Jeff Dees, wrote himself and introduced to students in the fall.
: "The creed just states that it's a place of learning, and a place of high
performance, high expectations. And that every day is a new day and we start every day
brand new; we don't hold any grudges. And we try to work on individuals as they try to go
through life. We are a three through six grade building, and I believe this is the most
time in their lives for us to really set a foundation for school and life."
About five years ago, Mashpee reorganized its school populations and the number of
students at the Quashnet jumped to about 850. That's a lot of kids for an elementary
school. Staff members say the increase in size created significant challenges. That need
for a safe sense of community grew more important than ever. With that in mind, last
spring, a group of school and community leaders asked the Massachusetts department
of education for a $25,000 grant through the state's PBS initiative -- the Positive
Behavioral Support Program. Some of the grant money will pay for such things as anti-
bullying and peer intervention programs. The majority of the funding, though -- $15,000 --
is geared toward helping traumatized children learn.
Anita Lichman is the regional director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Children
, a private non-profit that helped write the grant for the Quashnet
: "The idea is that...we have everybody -- administration, teachers,
parent aides or bus monitors -- everybody understanding what trauma might look like in
a kid. So that when a kid is having a hard time focussing or not following instructions
routinely through the course of a school year, it might prompt these professionals to say,
'My goodness, what is going on with this child?' Rather than suspending or expelling the
student, saying, there might be a different way to approach this child to actually keep
them in a safe place -- school -- and help them to focus and learn and feel safe."
The symptoms of trauma can show up in very different ways: defiance, difficulty paying
attention or an obsession with being perfect -- all are common signs. Nationally, the
MSPCC says about thirty-five percent of school children are estimated to have been
non lethal violence. It's now known exactly what the percentage is at Quashnet -- but the
school is being proactive on the issue.
Nancy Kerrigan, is a guidance counselor at Quashnet. It was Kerrigan that first heard
about the grant, and she brought it to the attention of the Mashpee School System's
Violence Prevention Team. From there, the MSPCC became involved, as did the Cape
Cod Dispute Resolution Center. Kerrigan said that along with its dispute resolution
program, pier mediation and character education, this new training and awareness
program is benefitting all of Quashnet.
: "In order for children to learn, they need to be in an environment
that they feel safe and they feel supported, so our school community is working toward
creating that. It benefits everyone, but it especially allows children who have been
traumatized the opportunity to be able to learn."
In an attempt to reach the caregivers of traumatized children, the program also reaches
outside the Quashnet School walls and into the community. Deb Berglin, the MSPCC's
clinical director, says that this month thereaupeutic sessions will be held at Mashpee
Village, a nearby housing development, where some of the most at-risk Quashnet
: "One of the things that we know about children who have been
traumatized is that often they come from families that are exceptionally stressed, and
sometimes come from parents who also have experienced trauma, and who struggle
with supporting their children both at home and at school. So we wanted to provide a
group that was free for parents, that provided child care, dinner, so they didn't have to
worry about their children, where we could support the parents in the work they are trying
to do in their own famililes, as well as educating them about the affects of trauma on
children and families."
For principal Dees, all of the training and support work has the same goal: To let the
children know that when they reach the school's doorway each morning, they have
arrived at a safe place of learning and respect.
Broadcast January 12, 2006
Sean Corcoran reports for the Cape and islands NPR Stations