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A Curriculum That Heals

September 7, 2006

Fran Simon

Kids are resilient, but a year after the devastation in New Orleans, some children in the area's schools may need to continue working through issues in order to bounce back and learn, says Stacy Overstreet, associate professor of psychology and director of the school psychology training program.


Stacy Overstreet (left) of psychology, along with grad students Brenda Meli (center) and Tara Mathews, are part of a group of faculty and doctoral students working with children in schools, hospitals and other community settings who are suffering from stress. (Photo by Jackson Hill)

Overstreet and three other faculty members oversee a group of 15 doctoral-level students in the school psychology curriculum who are working with children in schools, hospitals and other community settings including a mental health clinic and the Tulane Infant Mental Health Program.

This past school year, when school students returned to Lusher Charter School and St. Peter Claver School in the Treme neighborhood, Tulane doctoral students in the school psychology program worked hand-in-hand with the teachers to provide a healing curriculum program.

They conducted art projects and other activities designed to help the children overcome fears and anxieties that surfaced after Hurricane Katrina. For the more troubled students with traumatic stress reactions, the graduate students provided individual and group-therapy sessions, under Overstreet's supervision. About 30 undergraduate student volunteers from Tulane, Loyola and Xavier universities aided the doctoral students.

"We weren't sure how the teachers and their students would react to the healing curriculum at first, so we wanted to provide an undergraduate assistant in every classroom," Overstreet says, noting that the local area school administrators had considerable concern for the children's mental health as they re-entered school this past January.

Now, while Overstreet is meeting with area schools and nonprofit organizations that seek to aid children in the hurricane-devastated area to assess this year's needs, the psychology department is evaluating the healing curriculum. At Lusher Charter School, one hour each week is being set aside for class meeting time, when students and their teachers can focus on non-academic issues.

Working with Lusher's two full-time social workers is a Tulane doctoral student who is available to provide support, ideas for activities, consultation with teachers and psychological services as needed.

"The importance of classroom-based preventive services was realized in the aftermath of a trauma, and now my hope is that the schools will continue to roll with it," Overstreet says. "The teachers were surprised by how much the students were willing to share and one teacher noted, 'For the first time ever, I'm letting go of academics and really getting to know my students.' That fostering of deeper relationships between teachers and their students, as well as peer relationships among the students in the school, is vital to learning."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000