We seem to be at a place in time where achievement and growth scores continue to dominate the educational landscape, even though these metrics run the risk of overshadowing the students. Fortunately, there are examples of administrations, schools, and districts taking innovative steps to support students beyond academics. Here are four new ways schools and their leaders are supporting student well-being.
Mental Health Services
Professional counseling services for children and young adults typically involve referrals from schools, children convincing their parents they need help, or a judge ordering it after some sort of illicit activity. Parents must then miss work, which few can afford, and the students miss valuable instructional time. However, a few educational institutions have partnered with local mental health services to bring therapists to the students in need. Students are referred to these practitioners, with no cost to the family, and with minimal instructional time missed.
School districts should begin working with behavioral health service providers to place licensed mental health counselors inside schools. Unfortunately, only the most disadvantaged schools typically receive this enhanced service. More funding on the front end of children’s lives has the potential to pay for itself over time as these students become productive adults.
Social and Emotional Support
The era of guidance counselors is coming to an end, but this is not as worrisome as it seems. Professional school counselors, with more tools at their disposal, are replacing traditional guidance counselors in many schools.
These more broadly focused counselors are emerging from institutions certified by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. While it is still important to guide students through the educational requirements for graduation and prepare them for postsecondary education, school counselors are also wielding the counseling theories of Alfred Adler, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis to help them cope with difficult issues at school and at home. While these sessions with students—often held between classes and during breaks—cannot replace more traditional therapy for severe cases of mental distress, they can make a difference for those looking for ways to cope with everyday stress.
The link between diet and mental health is well documented, so it is somewhat perplexing that school lunches can be dragged into the political realm. Most schools only serve breakfast and lunch five days a week, which brings me to the topic of food insecurity. Abraham Maslow places psychological needs—including health, food, water, sleep, and shelter—as the first and most important aspect of well-being. Students who go without dinner on a nightly basis and miss multiple meals over the weekend will not come back to school in any shape to learn.
With social safety nets being cut, some schools are picking up the slack with backpacks full of food. While school leaders typically are apolitical, this is one topic that may require calling on our elected officials to maintain social services that provide food for the needy.
Peer Interaction Programs
Addressing mental health wellness is not solely on the backs of mental health practitioners. Administrators are more than capable of providing programs to facilitate positive behavior on school campuses. Programs such as Rachel’s Challenge can alter a school’s climate and make students less susceptible to harassment. Bullying not only causes students to skip class, but can also lead to depression, suicide, and acts of extreme violence. Administrators must not only provide encouragement for these initiatives, but also take the lead in implementing them.
What are steps your school is taking to support student well-being?
Laicee Hatfield is the curriculum principal of Farragut High School in Farragut, TN. She is the 2019 Tennessee Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter (@Laiceeh).