Defining what mental health and wellness is and isn’t can be extremely helpful in order to demystify cultural perspectives regarding this topic of interest. Katie Mendell, CABOCES Community Schools Coordinator, shared with Scio’s faculty and staff a wealth of information regarding mental health and wellness and what we can do in education to help our students. Understanding the continuum of well-being around mental health and educating the importance of the mind-body connection benefits all learners.
New York State Education Department (NYSED) Board of Regents permanently adopted a proposed amendment in May 2018 clarifying for schools what health education should include in all grades. Schools are required to: include mental health and the relationship of physical and mental health; and designed to enhance student understanding, attitudes and behaviors that promote health, well-being and human dignity. Many school may already be incorporating these elements in their education of health, however this formalizes the new requirements in law.
Take a moment and think of a situation where you recently felt upset; What feelings did you experience? How about a situation that made you feel happy? What were you doing? Simply defined, mental health is how one thinks, feels, and acts. The spectrum of wellness on mental health ranges and often times we associate mental health with mental illness. Katie shared a wealth of information in order to demystify and redefine mental health as how we think, feel and act. Mental Illness is a diagnosable illness that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions as well as disrupts the ability to engage in daily activities.
What can we do for our students? We can begin by reviewing and assessing our current K-12 health education curricula for alignment to new mental health education requirements; build capacity and strengthen relationships between educators and pupil personnel services (school psychologist, social worker, counselor, nurse); developing school-community partnerships with mental health professionals and organizations; identify strategies to engage families and students in supporting mental health and well-being; support a school climate “Culture of Care”; and leverage partnerships and build upon existing resources to develop a sustainable infrastructure for mental health. The following cards were shared with faculty and staff and also provided to students.
By: Jessica Schirrmacher-Smith, CA BOCES Professional Development
With the start of a new school year, Community Schools hosted the inaugural, bi-annual Community and Schools Together Event. Nearly 100 educators and community partners came together on September 30th to teach, learn and collaborate with one another. The region collectively chose to focus on advancing mental health and wellness at this event. This came as no surprise, considering that 46% of children experience at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE) and approximately 20% of adolescents have diagnosable mental health disorders. School and community partnerships are key to the growth and development of policies, procedures and best practices for mental health.
Dr. Liz Anderson of Binghamton University’s NYS Community Schools Technical Assistance Center welcomed the group and set the stage for the day. She discussed school and community collaboration, and reminded us that collaboration challenging, yet rewarding. “When we collaborate, we know that our strengths will be maximized, our weaknesses will be minimized and the result will be better for families, schools and communities,” said Anderson. The relationship between a community and a school is reciprocal in nature. Communities provide schools with a context and an environment that can reinforce the values, culture and learning. In addition, communities can also expand the variety of opportunities and supports available to students and families. In return, schools offer the community an enduring public institution that often serves as the “hub” of the community, especially within our rural region.
This event truly reflected the four pillars of the community schools strategy, which include, expanded learning opportunities, collaborative leadership and practices, family and community engagement, as well as, integrated student supports. A combined total of twelve breakout sessions took place throughout the day, and were facilitated by school leaders and representatives as well as community agency representatives. Sessions covered things such as family engagement, community trauma coalition, probation services and new legislation, model mentoring programs, addressing traumatic stress with restorative practices, school resource officer support, utilizing the community schools strategy in rural context, health services in school settings and substance abuse prevention and intervention services for schools.
As we move forward to begin planning the next CST event, to be held on March 23rd, we welcome schools and community partners to participate in the planning process. Our goal is to build upon the collaborative spirit that was developed during the inaugural event and increase the outcomes for our region.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 1 in every 5 of American children and adolescents under the age of 18, have a mental health disorder. We also know that anxiety is the number one mental health diagnosis impacting children and adolescents. The second leading cause of death for our children and adolescents is 100% preventable, that cause of death is suicide. The high school students in the Natural Helpers program at Cattaraugus-Little Valley took initiative to raise awareness on mental health and wellness in their school. Initially, the students approached their administration with some of their ideas and were approved to plan one half of the school day to host an event. However, after the preliminary planning meeting, students approached the administration with their vision for the day and were granted an entire school day for the event. This decision sent students the message that they matter, their mental health matters and their wellness is of top priority to the CLV School District. With support from teachers, administrators and Community Schools, the students were able to obtain keynote speakers, nearly 30 experts from the community and the region to volunteer their time and host 24 various workshops for students to attend the day of the event!
Strive to Thrive took place at CLV on Monday, May 20th. All high school students attended two keynote presentations, one at the beginning of the day and another at the end. Students pre-registered for 4 of the 24 workshop sessions that were offered throughout the day.
The day began with all students gathered together to hear keynote speaker(s), Nels Ross, and his son Noah, of In Jest Entertainment. The duo focused on a critical message of resilience, intrinsic value and the potential that lies within everyone. They did so while balancing, juggling and having fun. Much of their message highlighted physical, mental and social health. In addition to the morning keynote, the duo held their own workshop, and were able to explore resilience and wellness with smaller groups of students. Within their workshop, students could use scarves, peacock feathers, beanbags and other props to learn how to juggle. Students learned that juggling helps to develop the area of their brain that is used to practice life skills such as resiliency and goal setting, as well as to complete academic tasks such as reading and writing.
Workshops included; Yoga, Apps to Cope and Heal, Archery, Hiking, Creative Expression, Therapeutic Animals, Breakout Room, Mental Health, Restorative Circles, Mindfulness, Holistic Healthy Living, Fly Fishing, Journaling, Look Good & Feel Good (haircuts/nails), LGBTQ & Inclusive Schools, Character Building, Drumming, Empathy with Technology, Mind-Body Connection, Wildlife with Will and a Fitness Activity & Inspirational Talk with a Cystic Fibrosis Warrior. The workshop presenters included teachers from within the district, university professors, social workers, trauma therapists, yoga instructors, Directions in Independent Living representatives, life coaches, wildlife experts, fitness trainers, CA BOCES staff specialists, YMCA program directors and hair stylists.
Each of the workshops contained an underlying theme of self-care, cultivating positive coping skills and the importance of the mind-body connection. As students navigated through the day, they were able to reflect upon their own strengths as well as needs. During the four alternating workshops, students reported things such as, “I learned about things I typically wouldn’t learn about,” and, “I learned that I am not alone, and other people are experiencing the same things as me.” One student said, “It was nice to have a break and think positively without anything to worry about.”
At the end of the day, students gathered together as a group for the afternoon keynote speaker, Sarah Haykel, certified life coach and founder of Salsa for the Soul. Sarah uses creative expression to promote healthy relationships, resiliency, self-esteem and community building. Haykel guided students on a pathway to their innate value, worth, creativity and talents. Her presentation utilized movement to emphasize the mind-body connection. Haykel also held hosted workshops throughout the day.
The Natural Helpers at Cattaraugus Little Valley chose to respond to the staggering statistics on child and adolescent mental illness, by raising awareness and promoting self-care. Approximately 80% of students reported that Strive to Thrive was a positive, meaningful day. We look forward to learning about the many other approaches to raising awareness and promoting wellness in schools across the region.
By: Katie Mendell, CA BOCES Community Schools