As we prepare to welcome students back to campus, one thing is abundantly clear – status quo will never be the same. Returning students will need unprecedented access to mental health supports to overcome trauma stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, social injustice, wildfires, and a multitude of other experiences. Schools must prioritize the psychological safety of all students, families, and educators as never before. Left untreated, trauma, anxiety, and depression will impair students’ ability to engage in learning, leading to greater academic skills gaps and exponentially increased social-emotional/behavioral needs.
The research is clear—early intervention yields positive outcomes. Key to unlocking student success are credentialed school-based mental health professionals (school psychologists, counselors, and social workers) who play an integral role in the early identification of mental health issues. These highly trained professionals must be included in each phase of the school reopening plan, as they collaboratively support the social-emotional well-being of students, families, and educators. Within the Multi-Tiered System of Support framework, they implement culturally sensitive, trauma-informed supports for the whole child by: helping teachers embed social-emotional learning into the curriculum; helping students reconnect through back-to-school events, peer buddies, looping, and more; developing and communicating re-entry plans; examining infrastructure to conduct universal screening and informal check-ins with students; and managing a referral system for students at higher risk. Administrators—now is the time to embrace your Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) team as mental health providers.
By Jeannine Topalian, Psy.D., LEP#3365, CASP President