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Digging Deeper: Options Slim for Student Mental Health Supports

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As young people in Delaware report more and more signs of mental health issues, their options for dedicated help and support remain slim.

 

Rodel and a team of researchers just conducted a statewide landscape analysis of social and emotional learning (SEL) in Delaware. The report highlights promising practices and areas for potential growth as state leaders and educators look to serve all Delaware students in a more holistic way, with greater emphasis on their mental and emotional wellbeing to ensure they grow into  healthy, productive, citizens.

 

One area that emerged as an area for continued development was around collaboration between education and other sectors that serve students and families. The report states, “Students are typically in school for six to eight hours a day and spend the remainder of their time at home or in their communities. Schools operate within a broad system of supports that are part of students’ lives, and connecting those supports can magnify their collective impact. Delaware educators crave opportunities to collaborate with their peers, district and school leaders, and SEL partners.”

 

A clear area for improvement: supporting students’ mental health needs.

 

The need is particularly acute for students with severe mental health needs, who often require specialized care. Delaware has only one mental health facility statewide—MeadowWood—that admits adolescents for residential treatment. And whenever the facility is at capacity, new patients need to find another provider for their treatment, meaning families occasionally must make the difficult choice to send their child out-of-state for treatment.

 

This type of decision makes a stressful situation even more challenging for families, students, and educators. If a family chooses to keep their student at home rather than send him or her out-of-state, local schools may not be prepared to provide the specialized care that the student needs and deserves. As one Delaware district leader told researchers, “The concern is what happens to the students who exceed the parameters of what our programs can provide to them. We’ve lost out by not having day treatment centers. It’s analogous to a serious physical issue.”

 

Students who don’t feel safe at school often experience challenges with attendance, academics and mental health. Safe, supportive school environments, where students have positive relationships with peers and adults and feel a true sense of belonging, strengthen student engagement.

 

In Delaware around 85 percent of elementary school students report feeling happy at school, while only 61 percent of high schoolers did, according to the Delaware School Climate Survey. Meanwhile, 23 percent of Delaware children have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) that include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, substance misuse or violence in the household, parental divorce, among others.

But these statistics are counterbalanced by promising emerging evidence that indicates students with stronger SEL skills are more likely to have positive long-term life outcomes, including staying out of jail, avoiding substance abuse, and having stronger mental health.

 

So, how can Delaware ensure that all our kids have access to the supports they need to develop their SEL skills? There are many partners in Delaware already working to support this work, but one finding of our research study found that addressing these issues will require deeper collaboration between schools and other community partners. Thankfully, there are some strong examples of school and community partnership underway in Delaware.

 

Some social service and healthcare partnerships provide services to students school campuses. The Delaware Association for the Education of Young Children (deaeyc) is currently implementing a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to place Family Service Advocates in early learning centers to connect families to social services and other community assets. The Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative has trained over 2,000 Delaware educators on SEL and trauma-informed care. Children and Families First of Delaware partners with social services and healthcare to address student needs on school campuses. Freire Charter School and Christiana Care have partnered to provide family therapy services to students and families as needed, at no cost to families. There also are several initiatives underway in cities and states nationwide where rich, strategic partnerships between schools and community organizations support students and families with necessary social service and healthcare, which could point to possible next steps for Delaware. For example:

 

  • The Partnership for Resilience, a collaborative of education and healthcare partners in Illinois, aims to integrate health, education, and community partners to support the whole child. They build sustainable community partnerships; create resources, trainings, and education programs; and advocate for research-based policies that further their mission.
  • Every student in kindergarten through eighth grade in Salem, Massachusetts has an individual success plan, which weaves in-school and out-of-school strategies to support the needs and goals of each student.
  • A partnership between DC Prep and Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. has set up a mental health center directly within two schools, bringing a multi-disciplinary team of mental health professionals to provide a wide range of services.

 

These examples and promising practices from across Delaware and the country offer insights into how to best serve students and families and how our community partners and schools can continue to work together.

What We’re Reading: Artist Shares the Spotlight with School-to-Prison Pipeline

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What We're Reading
The education world is facing an equity crisis. Students of color, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English learners (to name a few) remain underserved by our current system. While many fight for solutions, gaps in our collective knowledge and understanding of the complexities around educational inequity linger.

Each month, the Rodel team will share some thoughts on a book, essay, article, or video related to equity in education with the hope that we will challenge both ourselves and others to think more inclusively about education reform.

 

 

What I’m Reading Watching: Notes from the Field, a one-woman show by Anna Deavere Smith

 

In developing Notes from the Field, Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominee Anna Deavere Smith interviewed more than 200 people living and working within the fields of education and criminal justice, including parents, students, educators, journalists, elected officials, prison inmates, academics, and activists. The resulting one-woman show explores the development and continuation of the school-to-prison pipeline in America’s public schools as well as themes of race and class disparity in America more broadly. The production is engaging, and Smith’s command of the stage is incredible as she takes on such a spectrum of voices, bringing visibility to populations and stories that need to be told and recognized more often.

 

Of all the perspectives Smith shares in Notes from the Field the ones that stood out the most to me were those of students. Whether the students were caught up in the criminal justice system in the blink of an eye or over the course of many years of “bad behavior” and “warning signs,” the stories they told illustrated a harsh and unforgiving disciplinary system which often has little regard for child development and has historically had a disproportionate impact within low-income and minority communities. As Judge Abby Abinanti, the chief judge of the Yurok tribe and one of Smith’s “characters” in the production discussed, “You cannot deal with children if you don’t have a sense of kindness and respect and if you don’t like them, and if you don’t have systems that like them and respect them… If [a student] does something wrong, then [he or she] needs to come closer, not be pushed away.” Notes from the Field is a challenge to all of us who work with or on behalf of children to advocate for an overhaul of how we approach discipline and consequences in classrooms—and police stations—across the country.

Can Personalized Learning Defray the Cost of Special Education?

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Investing in Education
It’s not just kids, parents, and teachers who feel the impact of our public schools. If you’re a citizen of Delaware, then you are—in one way or another—affected by our state’s education system. Check back regularly as we take a closer look at how When Students Succeed, We All Win.

 

Special education costs nearly twice as much as regular classroom education, but early intervention can decrease special education costs by 40 percent. Scrapping the one-size-fits-all education system we have today and replacing it with an individualized approach may be just what’s needed to meet every students’ needs and maximize student success.

Special education aims to meet students’ individual needs.

 

In a personalized learning setting, students—including those with disabilities—receive a customized learning experience, can learn at their own pace, and in alignment with their interests, needs, and skills.

 

According to the National Council for Learning and Disabilities, personalized learning offers a way for students with disabilities to get more student-centered attention. They offer five benefits of personalized learning for special education:

 

  1. Increases student engagement and achievement
  2. Encourages a growth mindset
  3. Builds decision-making and self-advocacy skills
  4. Reduces the stigma of special education
  5. Gives students who think differently multiple ways to show what they have learned

 

Resources to learn more:

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