KeepHealthCare.ORG – Educators talk creating culture of safety at mental health conference
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – More than 250 teachers, counselors, social workers and K-12 administrators are attending a School Mental Health conferenced, hosted by the Kent ISD and Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
The two-day event that kicked off Tuesday, June 19, is aimed at addressing safety in schools. The conference, which is filled to capacity, is at the Kent ISD Educational Service Center, 2930 Knapp St. NE.
“Adults who work with youth are learning to inform themselves better about risk factors that young people might have and how to create a learning environment that will support them,” said Cat Lanting, program coordinator of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
Lanting said there are multiple breakout sessions aimed at different areas of youth mental health. She said there was a student panel on Tuesday and a parent panel is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20.
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For example, there is a breakout session with school building and central office administrators on creating a culture of safety to decrease mass shootings, violence and crises within our schools.
Bob VandePol, executive director of Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services’ Employee Assistance Program, is the keynote speaker and will lead that session.
“Kent ISD, through the Project Aware grant, is taking a strong role in advancing mental health and safety in our schools”, said Kerry Muller, project manager for Project Aware at Kent ISD.
Kent County is part of a federal initiative. In 2014, Michigan was among 20 states to receive a five-year Project AWARE Grant and the School Climate Transformation Grant for nearly $13 million. Pilot programs are in Kent, Jackson and Oakland counties.
The grant promotes Mental Health First Aid Training among other things. Employees are learning how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness for referrals or to help someone in crisis such as contemplating suicide.
Twenty percent of children living in the United States – 1 out of 5 children – experience a mental disorder in a given year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some other breakout sessions on the conference agenda include, transformative school design, developing a supportive culture, trauma informed schools as well as sessions on mandated reporter training and the Mental Health Foundation’s “Be Nice” program.
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The Trauma Informed Schools session will provide participants with an overview about trauma, specifically Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Participants will learn about how trauma impacts brain development and a child’s ability to participate in the learning environment. It will include strategies that participants can implement in their classrooms, school buildings, and personal lives.
“I think people will walk away understanding better why there is such a need in our schools for multiple levels of support to ensure kids are successful,” said Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
“We have to change the culture of understanding about mental health.”
The conference is intended to for school staff to learn how to support the whole child by promoting a a positive school climate through increased awareness and education of mental health and surrounding topics, officials say.
“Every Michigan student deserves the opportunity for a quality education in a safe and healthy environment,” according to conference literature.
Assistant Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler recently acknowledged lawmakers for setting aside more than $60 million for mental health and school safety in the $56.8 billion 2019 budget.
“All districts are identifying a greater need for resources to deal with social and emotional issues for their student population and the mental health components of this package are a great start on bringing to schools and students the assistance they need,” he said.