Nevada Superintendent Jhone Ebert and Deputy Superintendent Jonathan Moore listen to math students at Carson High School in September 2019.
Three educational leaders, including Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert, addressed the successes and challenges their states are experiencing helping students in need of access to mental health services during a webinar by the Hunt Institute on April 20.
Ebert, one of the featured speakers on “An Invisible Threat: Addressing Mental Health Concerns in K-12 Education,” addressed how school districts and state agencies are expanding behavioral, mental and social resources so students feel supported.
Ebert referred to the Nevada Department of Education’s pilot program Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education), an electronic health care system that provides interventions and monitoring once a student is identified as being at risk. Schools can begin providing resources for children who show decreased attendance, lower grades and poor behavior in the classroom and inform parents. A school’s social worker or counselor can assess the child and direct them to clinical health services as needed, Ebert said, and it works in compliance with laws to protect family and student privacy rights.
“We make sure there’s a warm handoff with that community partner,” she said, adding the state’s rural schools are being serviced, with telehealth services being used and families can meet securely with therapists when needed.
Ebert said the pilot program has allowed Nevada to incorporate a network of 32 agencies with 314 clinicians. But, she said, Nevada already faced an increased need for services coming out of the pandemic.
Stephen Sharp, director of the American School Counselor Association in Landisville, Pa., said addressing students’ mental health needs became a critical need as the pandemic presented itself but staffing was problematic for many schools. While many sites are thinking about testing this time of the year, he said, many students are referred to hospitals or behavioral health centers in crisis and schools desperately need teachers and counselors who are trained to help children in need.
“If we look at the systemic structures that are supporting students, we need to take a hard look and start making some judgment calls,” he said. “The reality is, from a workforce standpoint — not just the mental health of our workforce, but we have a declining workforce both when it comes to educators and when it comes to behavioral health as well. And so, the reality is, we’re trying to make referrals for our students and due to a truncated workforce, our students are waiting to be hospitalized for days or months sometimes.”
He also said students generally find school to be the safest place to be. More investments also ought to be placed in school-based initiatives or therapy because it can remove barriers for adults who do not have insurance or transportation for their children, he said.
Angela Jerabek, founder and executive director of Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) of St. Louis Park, Minn., manages the BARR Center to use qualitative data to develop students’ strengths and find non-academic solutions and resources to prevent them from falling behind.
“Teachers need each other and the school system puts them in silos,” Jerabek said. “So often times when teachers do meet, they traditionally talk about curriculum or talk about a very small number of students. And I think the necessity of having them be able to share their observations and share their information to come up with solutions to identify students in need as well as solutions is a huge challenge as well an opportunity to be able to address it is important.”
To watch the webinar, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMVbDonpvyI.