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2013 Colorado Book Awards recognize three DU authors

Carolyn Mears, an adjunct faculty member at DU’s Morgridge College of Education, has won a 2013 Colorado Book Award for “Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma: Advice Based on Experiences” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), an anthology designed to guide educators through the process of moving on, emotionally and academically, in the wake of a traumatic event.

Mears was presented with the best anthology award on June 21 at the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival, an annual event hosted by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation.

The Colorado Book Awards are given annually in 15 categories by the Colorado Center for the Book, a program of the Colorado Humanities that is also affiliated with the Library of Congress Center for the Book in Washington, D.C. Other 2013 winners with DU connections were alumna Kristin Iversen (PhD ’96), who took home general nonfiction honors for “Full Body Burden” (Crown, 2012), her account of growing up near the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado; and Gregory Hill, a former Penrose Library staffer, who won the literary fiction award for “East of Denver” (Dutton, 2012), a Colorado-set novel about a man who convinces his elderly father to help him rob a bank.

“Reclaiming School” originated from Mears’ experiences as the mother of a Columbine High School student during the shootings of 1999. “I watched helplessly as my son, his schoolmates and the entire school community struggled to find a way through what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare,” Mears recalls.

Over the next few years, Mears began documenting the community’s recovery process, resulting in a 2005 dissertation at the University of Denver. Her dissertation soon sparked a flurry of interest around the world. “I was contacted by educators in other communities who were trying to rebuild their world after a tragedy,” says Mears. “I realized the need for information was growing, and I wanted to find a way to help.”

In addition to several chapters authored by Mears, “Reclaiming School” features perspectives and advice from trauma survivors in educational settings across the world, touching on events such as 9/11, the Virginia Tech shooting and Hurricane Katrina. Schools profiled include the Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, the New York Law School and the Joleka School Center in Finland.

It’s an inclusive portfolio of stories, but one that addresses common difficulties. “Educators are rarely taught how to adjust their instructional practices to meet the special needs that arise,” Mears says. “Teaching in the aftermath is not simply business as usual.”

Another of the book’s conclusions is that a return to the familiar structure of school can have a healing effect. “Many of the strategies that facilitate learning in the aftermath of trauma are actually extensions of practices that supported it before,” Mears says. “A caring teacher and a classroom that feels safe, with an established sense of order and rules that are fairly applied, give students the comfort of predictability.”


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