Whether or not they have been exposed to violence or trauma themselves, third grade students at Medeiros Elementary School selflessly empathized with those who have by making and donating over 40 blankets to Focusing on Children Under Stress, a program that helps students who have undergone a emotionally disturbing experience by making sure the school they attend knows to focus on the child and handle them with care.
“We knew we wanted the blankets to go somewhere in our community and we thought the children in this program would like them and appreciate having a blanket made especially for them,” said third grade teacher Kim Robison. “Our students were very excited to make the blankets and to be helping other children in their community.”
FOCUS was modeled after a similar program in West Virginia called Handle With Care in 2016, which aims to decrease the effects of a child’s exposure to violence and trauma as research shows that prolonged exposure to either can hinder their ability to learn, form relationships and focus in the classroom.
Through FOCUS, information about children who may have been exposed to a traumatic event is sent to the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, which will then forward the information to the school district superintendent by the next school day to alert the school that the child may exhibit academic or behavioral problems. While no specific details about the traumatic incident are provided, school officials and teachers are asked to focus on the child and handle them with care.
“We just want to give a heads up, especially to the school that something has happened in this child’s life that may affect them from learning,” said SDEA agent and FOCUS Program Coordinator George Papadopoulos. ““It could because a child sees mom go on a gurney to the hospital and dad being handcuffed and taken to jail, or if there was a search warrant on their residence and people are coming in the front door dressed in tactical gear and guns drawn. It could be because their grandma passed away in the middle of the night or the family dog got run over by the neighbor’s car — it doesn't have to be criminal.
“These are all traumatic to children, so if the child is engaging in behavior that is not normal, they should take that extra step and just ask if everything is okay because when children think that nobody cares, then they aren’t going to even bother going to school. If we can prevent that, if we can just save one child, then to me the whole program was a success,” continued Papadopoulos.
Robison said that the third graders' donation to FOCUS was rooted in their own program called Fortunate Fridays, which teachers started to help students realize how fortunate they are to have the things they have, as well as help out others who are less fortunate. When she and the other third grade teachers found out about FOCUS from Papadopoulos, they decided to have students make and donate the blankets to the organization to “help kids in a time where they need it most.”
“We feel our students benefit from celebrating Fortunate Fridays and service learning in many ways. They learn to see themselves as part of a community both local and global. They also learn to appreciate the things they have and they learn that their actions can have a positive impact on the world,” said Robison. “Making blankets was a very tangible way to show them that they are making a difference in our community and county. The students loved hearing about how kids will be very grateful for these blankets. This is a great program that our county has and we were very happy to support it.”
Robison said the five third grade classes at Medeiros each took about an hour and a half to make about 45 blankets for FOCUS.
“They loved making them,” said Robison. “It was a great team building experience for all of the students and to have them be helping others and making a difference in the life of someone else was very rewarding for them.”
Papadopoulos said that SDEA will distribute these blankets to the children who receive help from FOCUS after they are exposed to traumatic or violent experiences. A number of blankets were also given to Child Protective Services and the Stanislaus Family Justice Center in Modesto.
“It kind of choked me up to find the words to say thank you to those kids,” said Papadopoulos. “These blankets are going to someone who doesn’t have it as good, so it was a very heartwarming thing.”
For more information on FOCUS, visit focuscalifornia.org.