Creating an Emotionally Healthy School Climate
The Center for School-Based Mental Health (CSMH) held its 22nd annual conference outside of Washington, D.C. from October 19-21 bringing together educators, social workers/counselors, policy makers, and staff from non-profits, foundations and governmental organizations. The mission of the Center for School Mental Health is “to strengthen policies and programs in school mental health to improve learning and promote success for America’s youth.” Since 1995, the Center has been providing evidence-based best practice research and awareness from pre-school to college and partnering with local, state, federal and international agencies on research, training, policy, and practice in school mental health.
The focus of the conference was on strategies, best practice models and programming around the emotional and mental health and wellbeing of students. Winter Park Health Foundation staff, along with key Orange County Public Schools district staff, attended and covered multiple sessions over the course of the two and a half days. Session topics included identifying and implementing universal prevention strategies; increasing student and family success through integrated multi-tiered systems of support; tele-psychiatry and school mental health; trauma informed school strategies; and how to bridge research, practice, policy and philanthropy to build capacity of school-based mental health initiatives. Sessions also included presentations by key staff from existing successful school based mental and emotional health and wellness models in New York City, Boston and Baltimore. Each session and case study presented an opportunity to learn about how others are intentionally creating a positive culture of emotional health and wellbeing in their school systems as well as utilizing technology to increase access to mental health services.Nationally, understanding the need to create an overall positive and emotionally healthy school climate is on the rise as school administrators and staff seek ways to address the pervasive stress, anxiety, and depression experienced by students. Counselors from the Community Help and Intervention in Life’s Lessons (CHILL) program, which was founded over 17 years ago by the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), have noted a consistent uptick in students who need to find positive ways to address issues stemming from anxiety and depression. Teacher and school administrators agree mental health is also a critical piece of the school culture picture. In the Winter Park Consortium of schools, CHILL counselors hold group sessions with students on dealing with feelings (anxiety and depression), coping skills, anger and stress management, grief and other topics as a way to address burgeoning emotional issues before students need more intensive intervention. Counselors also conduct presentations to faculty and staff, students and parents on social media awareness and mindfulness, among many other topic areas that help all attendees navigate and manage stressful situations. WPHF-supported Healthy School Teams, school nurses and nurse practitioners, and programs like Live.Live.Healthy and the Be the Change initiatives at Winter Park High School, all play a role. Conference sessions provided ideas on other innovative strategies and programming that can be deployed for positive school culture.As WPHF prepares for the late 2018 opening of the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the CSMH conference was also an opportunity to learn about community-based prevention and intervention strategies to guide the wellbeing of the broader community, of which schools are an important component. We all have a role to play in the health and wellbeing of our children. With a focus on seven dimensions of wellbeing, the WPHF is committed to working with our school and community partners to create a shared culture of mindfulness, kindness and compassion that knits the fabric of our community together.