/Students’ mental health how schools are supporting

Students’ mental health how schools are supporting

Nonprofit Mississippi News Alison Rausch, after 20 years of special education teaching, has taken a “one step at a time” approach to her job. Rausch is currently teaching sixth and fifth grade at the Wheeler Attendance Center, Prentiss County. She finds the uncertainty of the pandemic exhausting. Because of the unpredictable nature of students who are sent to quarantine, Rausch has to re-learn lessons regularly and it is difficult for her plan. Her department has seen an increase in students being referred to her for testing for special education services. This was mostly due to anxiety and depression. Rausch stated, “I have always believed that special education teachers should provide resources for mental health, behavioral health, and social skills to ensure students get the best academic outcomes.” The nation and Mississippi have witnessed an increase in anxiety and depression among children as a result of the ongoing pandemic. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared an emergency in child and adolescent psychological health. They said this was due to a pandemic-induced increase in previous trends. According to a Mental Health America report, 31,000 Mississippi youth experienced a major depression episode in 2019. Nearly three quarters of them did not receive treatment. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education, stated that both her teacher, and the student advisory council, have spoken out about the need to increase mental health services as a response to the increased anxiety and depression caused by the pandemic. Wright said that this is what breaks her heart. “Statewide we need to do an excellent job of training our teachers on the signs and consequences of children and adults suffering from mental health issues and social-emotional problems. A recent student suicide prompted officials in the Jackson Public Schools district to remind residents about the available mental health services. In a video message to the community, Jackson Public Schools Superintendent ErrickGreene stated that there are many people who care about you, including your teachers, counselors, principals, parents, pastors, and others. “You’re not alone,” Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick Greene said in a video message to the community. Marion Counseling Services provides onsite mental health professionals at every middle school and high school, while Hinds Behavioral Health Services is used at the elementary school level. According to district officials, both services reported an increase in demand due to the pandemic. Amanda Thomas, Jackson Public Schools’ executive director for climate and wellness, stated that teachers should not take it lightly if they notice a student withdrawing or making comments about harming themselves or others. They should immediately refer the matter to appropriate authorities. Thomas explained that staff are all trained in suicide prevention. However, recent events have led to them having to refresh their trainings. Thomas explained that it can be difficult to face this situation, even if you believe you have the tools you need. The district is also implementing a social-emotional education curriculum that focuses on self awareness, self-management and social awareness. It also teaches responsible decision-making, as well as relationship skills. As part of “whole-child” learning, the Pascagoula–Gautier School District started educating its staff in this area in the fall 2019. This included trainings in common mental disorders and how to accommodate them within the classroom. The “zone of regulation” language was also covered. This became the standard curriculum for school counselors to address mental health. The four zones, which are blue, yellow, green, and red, represent different emotions. These represent different emotions, such as sadness/tiredness and anger. Kristen Sims, the coordinator of the program in the district, explains the zones in a short video. She explained that the green zone is where we want stay as much as possible, but it is entirely normal to experience any of these other zones. “But we always try to get back into the green zone where our 100% self is.” The initiative also included physical cards which were distributed to students. They featured the four zones, as well as positive affirmations and coping skills. Sims stated that the cards provided a starting point for larger conversations about mental health among students, particularly after being introduced to them in class. Sims explained that the students discussed their feelings for 10 minutes. They joked about how they felt, and then shared what coping strategies worked for them. “So the teacher led almost a session of group therapy.” Jeana Delancey from Trent Lott Academy in Pascagoula–Gautier School District described the cards as “a great reference point.” Delancey stated that it was refreshing to see students come up to her with some knowledge about how to express their feelings. Advocates have been pushing for state lawmakers to include mental health standards in state law for years. TeachPlus Mississippi director Sanford Johnson has been working with teachers in advocacy for legislation to establish minimum standards for mental health care at schools. Johnson stated that teachers who have completed a mental health first-aid training have spoken about how beneficial it was. Although they don’t need to know all the answers, it does allow them to recognize students who might be struggling. Johnson said, “It teaches how to communicate and trust with that student, and how to encourage them to connect with resources.” Johnson’s Mental Awareness Program for School Act passed the House earlier in the session, but was killed by a Senate committee. This issue is being addressed by the Mississippi Department of Education, which uses some of its federal pandemic relief money to provide free telehealth services and teletherapy within schools. Two years ago, the Oxford School District began its whole-child education push. LaTonya, the chief of student services at the Oxford School District has made this transition a collaborative one. Robinson stated, “When the pandemic struck, we quickly realized that we needed more eyes and more people to keep us on the right track so we didn’t miss anyone.” “The pandemic provided us with the opportunity to discover what our support systems were lacking and then to rebuild them so they no longer exist.” At-risk meetings are held in schools at least once per month to assess the condition of students receiving mental health services. Counselors, behavior specialists and intervention specialists, principals, as well as the district’s retention coordinator, attend these meetings. Following a model developed by the American School Counselor Association, the district has worked to better utilize school counselors. Robinson stated that it takes away so much of what counselors have been known for, and puts them back to their core competencies of attendance, academics and behavior. Robinson stated that the district will hire a University of Mississippi clinical psychologist intern next school year. She also plans to include parents in the discussion about mental health. Robinson stated that mental health is not a problem for schools but a problem for the entire community. “… Talk to your children more. Talk to your children about what is going on in their lives so we can make connections. There is nothing worse than having your parent hear it for the first-time at a disciplinary hearing.