The role that a student’s physical and emotional health plays in education can never be overemphasized. Throughout my career as an educator, I have witnessed the negative impact that emotional difficulties have on a child’s life. But in recent years, a troubling trend has emerged: an increase in student mental health issues. This should concern educators, parents and, in fact, everyone who cares about kids.
The statistics are profoundly disturbing. Suicides are increasing fastest among children ages 10 to 17, while as many as one in eight children—and 25% of teenagers—are contending with diagnosable anxiety disorders. School shootings have risen; and in every recent case, the shooter was someone with a history of mental health problems. It is clear that students need greater emotional support than ever before, and schools are grappling with how to meet this challenge.
These are the reasons why NJSBA established the Task Force on Mental Health Services in Public Schools. The task force, which included board members, superintendents, therapists, psychiatrists, and student services coordinators, studied the issue for nearly a year, and consulted with multiple experts.
This fall, NJSBA is releasing the task force’s final report. It includes findings about the dimensions of the problem, descriptions of what several New Jersey school districts are doing to deal with the problems, and over 70 recommendations on programs and strategies to help provide the additional emotional support children need.
For me, the title of the report says it all: “Building a Foundation for Hope.” The task force firmly believes that social-emotional learning programs can help students deal with stress, learn from life’s challenges and be better prepared to face the future.
The work of the task force will be a major focus of NJSBA throughout the year. The official unveiling of the report will take place at Workshop 2019 during a session on Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. In addition, I will highlight the report and its recommendations at each of the 21 county school boards association meetings. A video about the task force findings is in production, and we are planning an additional information session this fall. Details will be publicized in School Board Notes.
Reaching children in need of mental health services is a goal that requires a commitment by all institutions that touch their lives, including school districts, state and municipal government, social service agencies, the faith-based community and law enforcement, among others. And local boards of education have a critical role to play. As the task force states, boards of education should take action to “enable access to counseling and mental health services, build mindfulness, enable collegial and collaborative relationships among staff and students, and enhance student safety.”