2013 Colorado Book Award: Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma

“Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma,” by Dr. Carolyn Lunsford Mears, recently won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in the anthology genre at the 22nd annual awards ceremony in Aspen. The award was given by the Colorado Humanities and Colorado Center for the Book, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Colorado awards recognize talented authors, editors and illustrators in the state.

Mears’ anthology is a collection of stories from people who have experienced traumatic events such as the Columbine shootings, September 11th attacks, and Hurricane Katrina. “It shows a real variety of experiences and relationships to different tragedies and different types of challenges, broadening the concept of trauma,” stated Mears. She goes on to explain, “I think it’s a book of hope, reconciliation, trials, and redemption. The contributors gave me their stories with the purpose of helping others; it is very much their experience, and I wanted their voices to be represented.”

Carolyn Mears, a Researcher, Adjunct Professor and Dissertation Advisor at Morgridge College of Education, is herself a Columbine mom whose son survived the tragic events on April 20, 1999. Her life was forever changed by the incident, sparking her desire to become knowledgeable about ways people cope with trauma and reaching out to affected individuals and communities through her books, presentations and consulting. Mears shares stories of healing to expand the base of knowledge around schools and communities that have experienced tragedy. Carolyn elaborates: “When someone experiences trauma, it becomes a part of their life story . . . who they are. Other people don’t understand what it is like, and because of what happened in my community and my research, I think I can help with that.”

Carolyn entered the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies PhD program at Morgridge College of Education specifically so she could design a course plan and an outcome that matched her passion, who she was, and what she wanted to do. Through the flexibility of the program and high quality of faculty, research and rigor, Mears conducted research for her dissertation, “Experiences of Columbine Parents: Finding a Way to Tomorrow”, winner of the 2005 AERA Qualitative Dissertation of the Year.

Through the innovative method she developed for her research, AERA recognized Carolyn’s work as having created a “distinctive qualitative approach” that brings the research to life, evoking deep understanding while addressing subjectivity and removing the researcher from the equation. “I try to be invisible,” Mears comments. In order to share her approach with others, she wrote“Interviewing for Education and Social Science Research: The Gateway Approach,” a finalist for the 2010 AERA Book of the Year Award. Carolyn Mears continued studying the aftermath of traumatic events and exploring the broader community implications, which led to publishing the award-winning anthology,“Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Reflecting on the impact of her work, Mears states: “There is a gift that can accompany the pain of trauma; it is an increased awareness for human life that resonates with all of humanity, that connects people in broadest and most personal sense, providing a deeper appreciation of how intimately connected we all are. My hope is that when people read this book, they understand more about themselves and the world we all live in, in order to help each other when the unthinkable happens.”

Mears continues to assist people affected by tragic events and speaks internationally about trauma and planning for recovery. She comments, “Schools are the place where we grow our future; when someone attacks a school, it’s an attack on our collective future.” She hopes her work will influence educators and community leaders to plan in advance for meeting the needs that accompany traumatic experience, both large-scale disasters and personal victimization. In every classroom and every school and every community in the world, there are individuals who have experienced traumatizing situations. By learning more about what this means, we can better know how to prepare and how to help.

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