As news hit of the terrorist attacks in Paris, social media exploded almost more than the city itself with heartfelt messages, images of solidarity and prayers for all of those involved. The Eiffel Tower became a peace sign. Profile pictures turned blue, white and red in honor of the French flag.

Facebook enabled its Safety Check feature for those in the city to let friends and family know they were secure. I have to admit that for a time on Saturday, even my own Facebook profile bore the colors of France. Americans showed, at least in their social media existence, that they cared. Paris would be remembered.

And then I saw a posting about Beirut, where only a day earlier more than 40 people lost their lives in a double suicide bomb attack. Their trauma, as The New York Times pointed out, “feels forgotten.”

What other traumas, I wonder, do we continue to overlook? Who else are we forgetting?

Since September 2012, members of the Waterville High School staff have been discussing adverse childhood experiences and their effects on teens. The term comes from 1998 study conducted by researchers from Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control. The study included more than 17,000 predominately middle-class participants who answered questions about various types of trauma they experienced between birth and age 18. The types included physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation, parental incarceration and instances of domestic violence. The researchers then looked at the participants’ health.

What they found shocked them. The more adverse childhood experiences that people listed had a direct correlation on not only their behaviors but also on their health later in life. Those who listed having four or more such experiences, for example, were not only 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than those with one, but they were also more likely to have diseases such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and obesity.

The trauma, it turns out, is also frighteningly common. Dr. Robert Anda, one of the co-authors of the adverse childhood experiences study who spoke earlier this month at the ACEs to Resilience Conference that former Waterville Mayor Karen Heck mentioned in her recent column, was the first to hold the initial data in his hands. “I saw how common it was,” he told the Northport crowd, “and I wept.”

Common, it is. In the 2013 Maine Kids Count report put out by the Maine Children’s Alliance, 25 percent (1 in 4) of Maine’s kids have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences. That is 3 percent higher than the national average.

We have created an ACE Committee at Waterville Senior High School that is working on a variety of strategies to help all of our youth. Our mission statement is to work with the entire high school community to create a trauma-sensitive environment that builds awareness, communicates strengths, fosters connections and encourages us to expect the best and stay for the worst.

Members of the committee, in collaboration with the Maine Film Center, the Waterville Opera House, Colby College, Thomas College and The Maine Resilience Building Network, have planned a special event for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, at the opera house. The documentary “Paper Tigers,” by director Jamie Redford, will be shown, with a discussion to follow. The film centers on an alternative high school in Walla Walla, Washington, that specializes in educating traumatized young people.

Redford, the son of Robert Redford, views this film as a national call to action for discussion about adverse childhood experiences, what Anda describes as “one of the leading, if not the leading determinant of the health and social well being of our nation.”

Our showing of this documentary coincides with American Education Week events that are occurring around the country.

The event is free and open to the public. We may be helpless to stop the trauma that rages in so many other parts of the world, but we do have control over what happens here, in our own community. We have the opportunity to help some of our most overlooked, our children living in trauma, to become seen.

Sherry Pineau Brown is an English teacher and the chairwoman of the ACE Committee at Waterville Senior High School.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.