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STUDENTS FEEL LESS SHAKEN AFTER QUAKE-TRAUMA PROJECT

SHARE STUDENTS FEEL LESS SHAKEN AFTER QUAKE-TRAUMA PROJECT

The cracks have been replastered and the school auditorium reopened, and now the students at Tarzana Elementary School who graduated from a trauma counseling program say even they are structurally sound.

For 10-year-old Vicky Fridman, that means the nights spent with her head shaking on her pillow worrying about when the next earthquake would strike are past."I was pressured and worried that the house would fall, and I wouldn't see my mom or dad ever again," Fridman told an assembly of classmates Thursday at the school in a suburban area of Los Angeles. "Now I feel safer, and if I'm alone, it's OK."

Her words and the gathering were intended to celebrate the emotional healing of students deeply shaken by the earthquake at a school that was hit hard by the Jan. 17 temblor.

About 100 students participated in the Earthquake Trauma Reduction Program which used art therapy, personal counseling and teacher training to help the students, some of whom lost homes in the quake.

Toni Shinn attended the ceremony with her two sons, ages 6 and 11. The family's apartment fell off its foundation during the quake, trapping them inside.

"We had to dig out with shovels," she said. "My kids didn't want to go home, they still don't sleep in their room - we just have one wall-to-wall bed. Now they're becoming more independent."

The program teamed mental health officials from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which funded the program.

"When we began, these children were in no way ready to go back to their classroom and participate in learning," said Jack Seabern, a consultant advising the Los Angeles Unified School District. "The school is now a safe, secure and supportive place for students."

Seabern said that the district plans to continue the program next year at Tarzana. The program is still under way at two other area campuses Cantara Street School in Reseda and Cohasset Street School in Van Nuys.

Suzanne Silverstein, president of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai said the children's psychological improvement could be charted in their drawings, which started with sharply drawn, dark images of misshapen homes, with tiny figures representing themselves.

In three months, the pictures have transformed to bright, happy images, Silverstein said, recalled one girl's picture of a sleeping child, with vividly colored images about her.

"On the paper she wrote, `thanks for helping me dream in color again'," Silverstein said.