Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown march through the streets Aug. 20 in Ferguson, Mo. / Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Public schools in Ferguson, Mo., are reinforcing their counseling services for the first day of school Monday in anticipation of students' anxieties after two weeks of protests in their community.
Ferguson-Florissant School District is doubling the number of counselors Monday, and it's training school staff to identify "signs of distress," said Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the school district.
School was supposed to begin Aug. 14, but the first day was pushed back because of demonstrations after the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a police officer.
The school district, which has 11,000 students, has one counselor for each of its 24 schools. It's adding 25 more counselors from Great Circle, a St. Louis-based behavioral health organization.
Great Circle is in discussions with the district about a long-term counseling plan, said Angela Bratcher, a clinical director at Great Circle.
"A lot of times with crisis situations, you don't see the response right away. It comes later," she said.
Nearly 2,200 Ferguson-Florrisant school staff - including teachers, bus drivers and custodians - are getting crisis training today, Shortt said.
"While we couldn't have predicted any of this, we hope to make it a learning opportunity for our children," Shortt said.
'Caught in a whirlwind'
Younger children may not be able to verbalize how they feel, and anxiety can reveal itself in headaches, stomachaches or other physical complaints, said Steven Bruce, director of the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Traumatic events have a much more "pervasive" impact on children than on adults, said Ken Oliver, associate professor of counseling at Quincy University in Illinois.
Children may think a situation represents how things are supposed to be. In the case of Ferguson, "they will assume all white police officers are mean to black people or black children," Oliver said.
Some early research shows "racial identity development happens early on in child development," Oliver said.
Teens in the community have described the past two weeks as surreal, said Gail Babcock, a program director at Ferguson Youth Initiative, a non-profit group.
"It feels like they're caught in a whirlwind, that they feel trapped," Babcock said. "It's scary, devastating, stressful. Some say they want to hide."
Some teens say they have nightmares and trouble sleeping, Babcock said.
"They need school to start because that's where they feel they can do the healing," she said.
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