Brain trauma team aims to become national model with new manual
Under plan, TBI teams to be created at every DCSD school
HIGHLANDS RANCH – Peter Thompson, a Douglas County School District (DCSD) psychologist and leader of the District’s Brain Trauma Team, has set an ambitious goal. In the next three years, he hopes to ready teams at every school to handle possible cases of brain trauma.
Over the past couple months he has written an 80-page manual, which outlines Douglas County’s long-term plan for traumatic brain injury. The plan calls for a two-tiered model, in which there is a District level team that supports building level teams at each school.
“The manual outlines a vision, which I think will put Douglas County years ahead of other school districts,” explained Thompson. “Very few Districts have what we are calling a hub and spoke model.”
Building level teams, which would be led by the District’s school nurse practitioners, would likely include certified support staff and a health room assistant at the elementary level. At the high school level, the team would also likely include certified athletic trainer and school psychologist. Everyone at the building level would receive training from the District Brain Injury Team, resulting in a certificate that would be renewed every three years.
“The goal will be to have a trained staff that has a baseline set of skills so they can help the student, when they are injured,” Thompson said. “Most school districts do not have anything in place and these kids are coming back from a head injury and they’re looking glazed over in the classroom. The dangerous part is that no one may know the student has a concussion.”
Thompson is proud of the progress already made here in Douglas County. Many secondary schools already have Traumatic Brain Injury Teams in place, which not only care for students that have a possible brain injury, but also encourage prevention through strict concussion guidelines. For example, our athletic trainers ensure students in contact sports participate in cognitive baseline testing before they step foot on the field, court or mat.
Perhaps most importantly, Thompson hopes that building a stronger network will ensure that steps are taken once an injured student returns to the classroom.
“We want to make sure accommodations are in place,” Thompson said. “We will work to educate teachers how to support students with concussions, so they can safely recover in the classroom.”
Often students who suffer concussions must lighten their academic activities, as well as avoid athletics, while their brain heals.
These discussions haven’t always been easy. Often, in the past, many people shrugged off head injuries, despite research that showed that reoccurring injuries could damage a child’s growing brain. Today, concussions have become part of the national discussion and the focus of major motion pictures, like Will Smith’s “Concussion.”
Thompson watched the movie when it came out, with his colleagues from across the state and says he felt a sense of validation.
“Ten years ago we were talking about the significant dangers related to concussions and people laughed at us,” Thompson said. “I remember saying, ‘the day is going to come when the NFL is going to have to face the music, because they can’t refute the science.’”
He is glad that the topic is now being taken more seriously.
“I believe that we are entrusted with kids’ lives. If staff have the formal education and the knowledge about the dangers of head injuries they have an ethical obligation to practice what they know,” Thompson said. “You can live without your arms, your legs, your kidney, but you won’t be successful if you damage your brain. That is my driving force. I feel that there is a strong ethical underlying principle to safeguard children’s brains.”
The District’s TBI team has talked for years about creating the manual, but it was the launch of the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan that finally prompted Thompson to take action.
“Dr. Fagen put out safety initiatives and I took that to heart,” Thompson said. “I want to give credence and kudos to Dr. Fagen for letting me do this. It wouldn’t have happened without her.”
Now Thompson and his team are preparing to publish the manual, not only to the school district but also, hopefully, in educational journals. He hopes the work they have done will be used by their colleagues across the country.
“When you start publishing like this, you are going before everyone saying – we have nothing to hide. We want to be progressive and help kids,” Thompson said. “I hope this puts us on the map nationally. I’m hoping that people in other states start saying, ‘yeah, we follow the Douglas County model.’”
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