New York State Education Law now requires schools to begin providing instruction in mental health, leaving many with questions. Districts in our region are interpreting the specifics of the law in different ways. Change can be scary, overwhelming and very stressful. It is also the perfect opportunity for growth. Together, our region will effectively navigate the new law, utilize accessible resources to support the process, assess current practice and create meaningful changes.
The concept of mental health as an integral part of health
Unfortunately, the word mental health often has a negative connotation. There is a stigma attached to the word, causing a cloud around the topic itself. However, mental health, just like physical health is a part of each and every one of us. We teach students about physical health and promote physical wellness, therefore, we must teach students about mental health and promote mental wellness in an equal fashion. Above all else, when interpreting the new law, it is critical to note that it is not intended to be a deficit model. Instruction should not solely focus on mental illness or include learning objectives that teach students to diagnose or treat mental illness.
Whole school, multi-tiered approach
Students are impacted significantly, in a positive way, when there is a holistic approach. While the requirements speak to integration of mental health instruction into the health curriculum, schools are strongly encouraged to promote a whole school, whole child, multi-tiered approach to mental health. Collectively, the districts and respective schools within our region have strong practices in place that support the holistic approach to mental wellness. For example, schools are building capacity in restorative practices, promoting trauma sensitive schools and classrooms, organizing family resource/support centers, expanding community partnerships that offer education and supports to students, staff and families.
Community partnerships are essential to the development of a comprehensive, school-based mental wellness approach. The purpose of school-community partnerships vary, however, often allow outside professionals to educate students, staff and parents, provide imperative services that the school simply cannot and refer students to necessary resources or services in the community. Research has found the importance of community partnerships in relation to improving school outcomes for students and increasing family engagement at school.
Resources for School Districts
Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES will be offering a professional development opportunity on December 10th to address many of the questions and differing perspectives. The offering is entitled “Mental Health Literacy Forum,” and will be held in Olean at the Main Center. Other educational resources include the following;