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Reflections: The State of School Mental Health— Courageous Conversations and Healing Practices

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

New England, a center for knowledge and research, has promoted a number of innovative responses to further the social emotional learning and establish mental health supports in schools. However, needs continue to grow. Educators have seen a changing population increasingly affected by the trauma that accompanies poverty, substance abuse disorder, bullying, and other adverse childhood experiences. To address these needs, the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC), as part of the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center, is helping to establish classroom and school-wide practices that will support children with behavioral and emotional challenges. Our group of twenty-two school principals, psychologists, social workers, and other leaders share and acquire knowledge, resources, and networking opportunities about how to cultivate compassionate school communities that buffer against trauma’s devastating effects. On October 28, we will share more of our knowledge with each other and the rest of New England at a meeting at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative Fellows Share their Expertise

Since April, C-TLC fellows have been learning about childhood trauma, mindfulness practices, and trauma-responsive policies through live webinars, resource sharing, and technical assistance. They’ve learned from leaders in neuroscience and trauma research, mindfulness, family partnership, and more. We’ve also shared evidence-based practices and heard from educators on what’s worked in their schools.

In a couple of weeks, our fellows will come together in-person for the second time. While most of our interaction is virtual, we find that having an opportunity to interact face-to-face and build community strengthens our ability to build collective knowledge. In the morning, fellows will convene with CEI and Yale University’s Program for Recovery and Community Health staff and collaborators as well as state officials to have conversations about identifying and responding to mental health needs and healing trauma in schools through mindfulness practices.

Fellows like Erica McLaughlin and Jim O’Rouke have been doing innovative work to address the impact trauma has had on their school cultures. Erica and Jim will join other fellows to participate in panels facilitated by leaders who work to promote social emotional learning (SEL) in the New England area. Former principal and SEL advocate Jill Flanders will moderate the “Heart Centered Approach to Mental Health in Schools” panel. Former principal and current Plymouth State professor Dr. Kathleen Sciarappa will lead the “Cultivating Compassionate School Communities” panel. This meeting of the fellows will be a time to share our triumphs, challenges, and questions with one another and continue to increase our community intelligence. Learn about insights we gained in November’s Wow!Ed Newsletter.

Learning from State Officials Passionate About Supporting Youth Mental Health

In the afternoon, from 2:00-3:30 p.m., our meeting will open to the public to broaden the conversation. Dr. Michele Rivers Murphy will moderate a panel of government officials from New England who are interested in supporting mental health in schools through funding and collaboration activities. New England educators, mental and behavioral health providers, researchers, and others interested in supporting the needs of youth experiencing or at-risk of experiencing trauma are invited to attend the “Best Practices in School Mental Health” panel.

One panelist, Tim Marshall, LCSW, Director of Community-Based Mental Health Services for the Connecticut State Department of Children and Families, will share his passion for working together with at-risk families to learn what they need and how to help meet those needs. He will join other officials to discuss what their years of experience in schools, talking to community stakeholders, and working in government have taught them about how to most effectively support students’ mental health needs.

Inspiring New England Educators to Advocate for Students’ Needs

One of the goals of the C-TLC project is to help educators better understand how to use grant funding and other opportunities to receive federal and state money for mental health and SEL support. Some fellows are new to this arena of being a 21st century educator and others have years of experience securing funding for their students’ holistic needs. For example, fellow and St. Albans City School Principal Joan Cavallo was an early adopter of the RiseVT program, which has provided funds to implement a variety of programs that address school safety, nutrition, and community building among diverse stakeholders.

If you’re interested in receiving more tailored resources about trauma and mental health in schools, consider becoming a fellow or a member school of the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative. You’ll get access to our C-TLC Basecamp platform where curated curricula and information on evidence-based practices, are posted. Visit our webinars archive page to learn more about what you can do to alleviate the pain of trauma for your students and staff. Mark your calendar for our next up-coming webinar from Teachers College, Columbia University professor and neuroscience researcher Dr. Kimberly Noble, “Poverty, Brain Development, and Early Interventions” on November 7 at 4:00 p.m.

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