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Training Teachers to Help Students Cope with Trauma after Major Storms

  • September 14, 2023
  • Mental Health
  • Puerto Rico
  • After going door-to-door to assess the health needs of survivors in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, health workers offer each other some comfort. Photo by William Vazquez/Americares.

San Juan, Puerto Rico – Sept. 14, 2023 – With peak hurricane season underway in Puerto Rico, Americares is training more than 350 school teachers, social workers, counselors, psychologists and administrative staff to better identify, assess and respond to the mental health needs of students dealing with the psychological effects caused by major storms. The Americares Mental Health and Psychosocial Support team based in San Juan began the trainings earlier this week, in five schools across Bayamón, Morovis, Naranjito, Orocovis and Toa Alta.

According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, more than seven percent of children in Puerto Rico met clinical standards for PTSD—about twice the rate seen in the general population—and that percentage may even underestimate the extent of the problem, the survey’s authors from the Medical University of South Carolina note.

“Children across the island are struggling to cope with the psychological impacts of living through back-to-back disasters,” said Americares Puerto Rico Country Director Eric Jovan Pérez López. “And with a new hurricane season comes painful memories of past storms. That is why we are training teachers and school personnel to better support the mental health of their students, as they often have to step into non-traditional first responder roles to help them navigate this emotional toll.”

Americares Emotional Management and Intervention Tools for Teachers and School Community in Emergencies and Disasters training will equip participants to identify signs of distress, provide immediate mental health support and connect students with the necessary resources for long-term recovery. Participants will also be trained in topics including disaster preparedness and mental health, gender-based violence, self-care strategies and psychological first aid.

Earlier this year, the team also trained an additional 400 teachers and school staff in Bayamón, Cataño, Corozal and Toa Baja, in partnership with the Puerto Rico Department of Education and with the generous support of CVS Health’s customers during an in-store fundraising campaign benefitting Americares.

Americares, a health-focused relief and development organization, launched the training as a pilot project in 2021 in partnership with Salud Integral de la Montaña, a federally qualified health center in Naranjito.

“At the Bayamón Regional Education Office we are very grateful for the partnership established with Americares. One of the goals of the work plan is student-focused and these trainings provide all school personnel with tools to support and work with the social-emotional needs of our students,” said Puerto Rico Department of Education Regional Superintendent Dr. Duhamel Adames Rodríguez.

The trainings, which began earlier this week, are also made possible thanks to the ongoing support of CVS Health’s customers. By the end of September, more than 750 teachers and school personnel will benefit from Americares Emotional Management and Intervention Tools for Teachers and School Community in Emergencies and Disasters training.

Americares work in Puerto Rico began in 2016 in response to the devastating Zika outbreak that impacted communities across the island. The organization has also been on the frontlines of Puerto Rico’s recovery since Hurricane Maria in 2017, increasing access to medicine for low-income patients, helping clinics across the island better prepare for future emergencies and training thousands of health workers and first responders to better manage their own stress and trauma so they can continue their lifesaving work. Americares also responded to the destructive 2020 earthquakes that struck the island’s southwest coast and launched a robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, the organization responded to Hurricane Fiona, delivering urgently needed medicines and relief supplies for survivors and providing emergency funding to help repair damaged health centers in the hardest-hit communities.

Americares helps communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters; increase accessibility, availability, affordability and acceptability of medicine and medical supplies; improve and expand clinic services; and prevent disease and promote good health. Since it was founded more than 40 years ago, Americares has provided $22 billion in aid to 164 countries, including the United States.

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