Tierra Turner's older brother was shot and killed on a busy Bayview street last summer.
the time Tierra, 11, arrived at the scene with her mother, a yellow
tarp covered 18-year-old Anthony Brooks' body. Nearby, a second tarp
covered his friend, Monte Frierson.
Standing outside the police tape, Tierra broke down, her small body heaving with sobs.
Two weeks later, Tierra started the sixth grade.
Along with a Tinker Bell backpack and pink Princess cell phone, she carried the deaths with her to Visitacion Valley Middle School
each day, absentmindedly writing "RIP Ant and Monte" on the cover of
her notebooks and in sidewalk chalk on the playground. As the months
passed, her grades slipped and her temper often flared.
school, the principal and staff see the signs and symptoms of
trauma-related stress in many of their students - the hostile outbursts,
the sliding grades, the poor test scores or the inability to
They are among the countless children in San
Francisco's toughest neighborhoods who experience murder, violence and
trauma - an often unavoidable consequence of living in an urban
The violence, layers of it overlapping year after year,
can eventually take up residence in the children's minds. Like combat
veterans, they develop post-traumatic stress disorder - the
As many as one-third of children living in our
country's violent urban neighborhoods have PTSD, according to recent
research and the country's top child trauma experts - nearly twice the
rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq.
Angeles Unified officials conduct annual surveys, finding similar rates
of PTSD within the schools in that city's most violent neighborhoods.
Implementing a group treatment program, one developed by the district,
has come in fits and starts, however.
In the Bay Area and across
the country, meanwhile, PTSD in these urban children is generally
undiagnosed, untreated and almost completely off the radar for
policymakers and education officials.
A Stanford University
researcher, however, believes schools should be on the front lines when
it comes to recognizing and treating children with symptoms of PTSD,
and has identified Visitacion Valley Middle School as the ideal place to
test a therapy involving 17 one-on-one sessions with a
"We have to pay a lot more attention to this," said Dr. Victor Carrion,
director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program. "PTSD
basically feeds on avoidance. The more you avoid it, the worse it gets."
But Carrion lacks ongoing funding and said the study has stalled despite a waiting list of students at the school.
a third of the 105 students in Tierra's sixth-grade class at Visitacion
Valley said they have seen or knew someone killed with a gun, according
to a poll school officials administered last fall.
"The violence permeates the lives of the children," said school Principal James Dierke. "It's something they carry around with them like a coat, all day long."
Yet, these children, while hurt and scared, can be helped.
Tierra's trauma is recognized
The F-word flew smoothly out of Tierra's mouth as if it had been there before, which it had.
The profanity didn't faze Dierke, who sat beside her in his office in June, a day before school let out for the summer.
continued the rant - something about a boy she wanted to beat up. It
wouldn't have been the first fistfight the girl waged, punching larger
opponents with the full force of her 110 pounds on her 5-foot,
Dierke didn't blink at Tierra's language or tough talk. She wasn't in trouble. The two were just chatting.
"Are you going to summer school?" Dierke asked, changing the subject. "You need to."
She didn't look at him when she said yes.