Penny Torgeson, who teaches a child psychology course at William Carey College on the Gulf Coast, has brought the Silver Linings Community Crisis Response Program, created after 9/11, to help children on the Mississippi Gulf Coast deal with their feelings after Hurricane Katrina.
Starting the program was difficult. With 10 feet of water in the school from Katrina, it was months before students could return to the campus. Finally, Torgeson was able to start the Silver Linings program with a test group of second graders.
"It helps the children go through the stages. It is about what happened, the change and how to get past what happened and to recover," she said.
Activities include a feelings toss, where children toss a ball or sack onto a box stating a certain feeling. The child then discusses a time they felt that emotion. The activities are designed to teach children that feelings are universal.
"It is OK to be angry or to be sad. Feelings aren't good or bad. They just are what they are," Torgeson said.
The Gulfview second graders, who are expected to wrap up the six stage lesson plan early this year, have found they share the same fears. Some have said they are afraid to sleep at night, while others say they are "scared of everything now," she said.
"I can give them little hints or tips of how to calm yourself back down," Torgeson said.
Stephanie Gatlin, coordinator of Silver Linings at the Mobile Mental Health Center in Alabama, has used the program to help children directly affected and displaced from the Katrina as well.
Though crisis response was available through FEMA, the Child Advocacy Center determined a need for children to receive long term trauma based care counseling in their schools, Gatlin said.
Since October, the Mobile Mental Health Center and the Child Advocacy Center have partnered to offer the program to students in five schools in Grand Bay and Bayou La Batre and Irvington.
"The students were just so ready to talk and process things," Gatlin said, adding that she believe their school performances have also improved.
After the first groups complete the program, Gatlin said the students will be evaluated to see if more intensive grief and loss therapy is needed.
The coping skills taught by the program help prepare children for other life-changing events.
"It helps the children feel safe. They are able to make order out of the chaos that they are living in," said Suzy Yehl Marta, founder and president of Rainbows.
Silver Linings was launched in 1992 and was tailored after 9/11 to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Marta said the program has been praised by educators and children. Teachers have found it easy to implement and children are given a place to talk, she said.
"One little boy said he loves it _ 'I no longer cry every 3 minutes,'" Marta said.
Often it is said that kids are resilient but Marta disagrees, citing children in New York City who now suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome.
Patricia Skalka, a spokeswoman for Rainbows, said the Silver Linings packet has been made free to Katrina victims, thanks in part to grants from The Allianz Group and local schools and individuals in the Chicago area. The packet is normally available for a fee, said Laurie Olbrisch, the organization's executive vice president.
Three editions are available, each focusing on a different age group.
[ via katc.com ]