LOS ANGELES – A growing number of Southern California parents and teachers are learning how to best support preschoolers, particularly those who have experienced trauma.

Students under five-years-old are more likely to be suspended than older children, according to a Yale study.

Many of those suspensions disproportionately affect black students. Black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43 percent of preschool enrollment, but 26 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension. 

Watts-resident Breana Washington was worried her son Tey-Jon would be kicked out of pre-school because he acts out by biting, falling on the floor, and banging his head. She thought his behavior would be too much for teachers to deal with.

“When you have a child who you know can be a problem, I was worried. I didn’t think he was going to be able to go,” Washington said. “I almost didn’t sign him up because I’m like, he’s a problem, and I didn’t think that they were gonna find ways to help him, or help me help him.”

She knows his  behavior is a result of the trauma he’s experienced in just two short years. He was homeless with his mom and sister while she fled their abusive father. 

“Being homeless and moving from place to place probably has an effect on the children too,” Washington said. “Let alone me being stressed out and my own emotions too and the emotions I’m dealing with. It’s a lot.”

Yet more preschool teachers are being trained on how to deal with challenging behaviors. Teacher trainings, like the Exceptional Populations Training Institute offered by Child 360, focus on trauma-based care, cultural competency, and finding options other than suspension.

Associate Director Sara Vicente and her staff at Long Beach Day Nursery were part of the training institute.

“We need to make every effort as educators to support our children, to provide them with the tools they need to succeed,” Vicente said.  “Many times they use the aggressive behavior, the biting, the kicking, the screaming, because there is a need, an emotional need that hasn’t been met.”

Vicente recognizes there is risk to teachers, and not always time to focus on just one child. But she thinks teachers need to treat students like books--read them carefully, and recognize that they each have their own story.

“Because taking the kids out of school, OK we are taking them out. Where are we putting them at? We need to have a place such as therapeutic pre-school centers where these staff are professionally trained and even have a degree to be able to help these children,” Vicente said.

Tey-jon’s school gave him a therapist, and the teacher communicates closely with mom Breana. Now he hasn’t bit anyone for a while.

“So it’s like teamwork,” Washington said.