By Lori Powell, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
As I prepared for my school day on August 10, 2022, the sun was shining and the temperature was warm. I was excited to greet students with the last names starting with K-Z at Vogel Elementary School in Evansville, IN. It felt like a normal first day of school, but it would turn out to be anything but normal. That afternoon we suddenly heard a loud boom, which caused the entire school building to shake.
Some of the staff thought the sound was a car crash or a tree falling. I could see smoke coming from the west but did not know the location. After a short time, the scary noise was determined to be a house explosion in the 1000 block of Weinbach Avenue in Evansville. This location is only a few blocks from Vogel Elementary School. Sadly, three people did not survive the tragedy.
I immediately experienced multiple thoughts and feelings; however, I knew that my primary focus was to help the Vogel students, parents, and staff feel safe by being there to answer their questions and concerns.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.” These situations can include natural disasters, death, abuse, or accidents. Student, parent, and staff reactions to the explosion last year ranged from shock to anxiety, sadness, and fear. Many people cried, and several parents picked up their children from school early to comfort them and ensure their safety.
I personally felt terrified and worried, because my mother lives very close to the house that exploded. My brain was stuck in these two emotions for the remainder of the day. I knew what I was experiencing was trauma, but at the time I was only functioning moment by moment.
When I drive on Weinbach or Hercules Avenue, I can still see the devastation from the explosion. My mother’s house still needs a few repairs, but it is mostly completed. The good news is that she was able to stay in her home.
Even though time has moved forward and we are now in a new school year, the explosion continues to affect people’s lives. Many of the students at Vogel are still processing feelings related to this traumatic event. When these difficult experiences happen, it is very important to utilize positive coping skills, even if time has passed since the traumatic event.
Good ways to cope with trauma include talking about your feelings, continuing healthy routines and behaviors, and seeking out professional mental health resources and care if needed. Some positive coping skills that can be useful are deep breathing, positive self-talk, eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting the correct amount of sleep.
If you feel like your child has experienced unresolved issues related to trauma, you can seek out a Youth First Social Worker at their school or contact your primary care physician to determine the best way to address their needs.