National School Mental Health Curriculum Launched to Help School Districts Support Student Mental Health

By Kaela Farrise, CEI Intern

Over the past few years, mental health support and education have become a focal point in discussions around ways to improve the performance and overall well-being of students across the nation. Though an admirable goal, integrating mental health education and support into existing school structures and curricula can be challenging for a number of reasons.

In July, the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTC) in conjunction with the National Center for School Mental Health (NCSMH), released its National School Mental Health Curriculum to assist schools in incorporating mental health supports and education into every aspect of school life from classroom education to community projects and student and family support services (Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, 2019).

The curriculum, which is geared towards school districts looking to implement change on a larger level across multiple schools at once, pushes a collaborative approach to creating sustained change. It gives school and district leaders a roadmap of how to assess their current level of mental health support for students and families and lays out a framework for how to locate and improve upon growth areas. The survey tools provided can assist schools and districts in assessing the quality of current implementation of curriculum concepts. And the resources included in each chapter give leaders the tools needed to implement suggestions.

Inside the Curriculum

The curriculum consists of both trainer and participant manuals and slide decks as well as supplemental resources that can be accessed online. This includes five 75-minute webinars that take a deeper look at a few of the content areas highlighted in the manual (Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, 2019). For example, in Module 1: Foundations of Comprehensive School Mental Health, the curriculum walks the future trainer through background information on comprehensive school mental health, including how it is defined, what stakeholders might be involved in developing a sustainable system, what types of supports need to exist for the system to be both comprehensive and successful, and why it is important for any system to be culturally responsive and equity-driven.

With this background information established, the second portion of Module 1 focuses on why comprehensive school mental health is valuable including what skills students walk away with and the impacts on greater school culture and individual student performance. For instance, the manual indicates students will gain skills from the five domains of social and emotional learning developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and explains each domain.

The module concludes by giving structured reflection questions to help guide participants to consider what aspects of a comprehensive school mental health plan they already have in place and where there might be room for growth.  Additionally, a large number of resources, including tools for implementation, examples of how districts and states have implemented different pieces, and exemplar documents school stakeholders can adapt to their own settings. Educators can find resources like Colorado’s School Mental Health Toolkit or the entire School Mental Health Quality Assessment District Version (SMHQA-D) assessment instrument “designed for school district teams to 1) assess the comprehensiveness of their school mental health system and 2) identify priority areas for improvement” (Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, 2019, p. 47).

Assisting Schools Every Step of the Way

Each module gives a wealth of background information on the topic, justifications for why each aspect is necessary, and implementation strategies and resources for the eight core categories covered in the manual.

The topic areas for the 8 modules are:

  1. Foundations of Comprehensive School Mental Health
  2. Teaming
  3. Needs Assessment and Resource Mapping
  4. Screening
  5. Mental Health Promotion for All
  6. Early Intervention and Treatment
  7. Funding and Sustainability
  8. Impact

The curriculum incorporates existing best practices, such as using validated assessment tools (which the curriculum often provides in the resources section) and soliciting diverse representation in all decision-making while also starting bold discussions in areas like screening and proactive assessment of strengths and needs of all students.

Addressing Universal Screening

The curriculum’s push towards universal screening is in line with efforts around the country to catch mental illness concerns before they affect developmental trajectories or cause student impairment (Asby, 2019). For instance, in June, California Governor Gavin Newsom set aside $50 million to train primary care providers in administering trauma screenings for adults and children as part of the state’s new surgeon general’s plan to limit the long-term impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs; Rubio, 2019). 

As the curriculum outlines, screening in itself is not enough, but must be done in conjunction with the pieces outlined in the other 7 modules so that schools are in a position to provide additional support for those students and families who are identified as needing them. In Module 4, screening is depicted as a “triage” point to help match students with the appropriate level of care and referral organizations (Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, 2019, p. 48). The curriculum recommends schools use The Trauma Responsive Schools Implementation Assessment (TRS-IA) tool to assist in determining their capacity for trauma-responsive intervention.

In a summary of the curriculum, the MHTTC reports that “the modules align with the national performance domains and indicators of comprehensive school mental health system quality… established as part of the National Quality Initiative on School Health” (MHTTC, n.d.). The curriculum is free to use and can be accessed on the MHTTC website. It was also designed to be used in conjunction with the SHAPE System, which you can read more about here.

References

Asby, D. (2019, Oct. 15). Part I: The benefits and cautions of universal mental health screening. Center for Educational Improvement.

Rubio, D. (2019, June 28). California budget signed by governor Newsom strengthens foundations for young children and their families.

Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network. (2019, July 8). MHTTC national school mental health curriculum.

Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network. (n.d.). National school mental health curriculum: Guidance and best practices for states, districts, and schools.

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