Kindergartners joined Student Support Coordinator Vickie Swanson in her office recently to play a version of Connect Four.
Before playing their turn, each student chose a chip, identified the emotion expressed on the chip and explained a time they felt that emotion.
“I feel really calm when I get to see my mom,” Emma said. “She makes me really relaxed. I like being here too. It makes me happy.”
Claire chose a sad chip.
“I felt sad when I looked outside and saw and saw snow,” she said.
Each day, Swanson hosts “Lunch Bunch” in her office. While selected students eat, Swanson leads a variety of games. It’s a time for students to “take a break and talk about themselves in a very relaxed and comfortable environment,” she said.
Of the more than 50 million public school students in the U.S., as many as 1 in 5 show signs of a mental health disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.13 CDC report on children’s mental health
Caledonia officials had their own data from a climate survey taken about a year ago. “What was glaringly obvious was a gap in (mental health) support when it came to elementary students, Swanson said.
To address the mental health needs of students across the district, Superintendent Dedrick Martin and his staff have formed a Student Services Team of administrators, a student support specialist, family engagement coordinator, school counselors and social workers.
Since the team began to meet on a regular basis this school year, office referrals have decreased across the district, Swanson said.
“Before, the principal was the only option,” Swanson said. “Now we have those middle people that can work on coping strategies with students and then get them back to the classroom for valuable learning time.”
Serving All Students
Though the needs of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) were being served through social workers, there was more to be done to make sure that every student has the resources they need, Swanson said.
“We had to talk about what we were doing for all students in the classroom, what were we doing for students who were continuing to struggle?”
The team is tasked to work with teachers, parents and community agencies to support students in the areas of social, emotional and academic success.
Martin said the district has allocated funds to hire additional staff, as well as for intervention resources, parent/community education, professional development and training for teachers.
The creation of the Student Services Team focuses on four areas:
- Additional staffing: A student support coordinator was hired as well as student support specialists who split their time between elementary schools, and family school coordinators were hired to support the elementary schools. An additional counselor was added at the secondary level. The team has been working on suicide prevention and assessment protocols, social-emotional learning curriculum and implementation, along with universal screening tools and interventions.
- Parent/community education: Bob VandePol from Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services presented to parents and the community in October on suicide prevention, and further resources for parents were made available.
- Professional development and training: All secondary staff received youth mental-health first aid training. Some staff members across all grade levels have participated in workshops and conferences with a focus on anxiety and trauma. Additionally, the Student Services Department has created a monthly newsletter that is sent to all staff to communicate upcoming events, mental health awareness information, and social-emotional learning standards and ideas for the classroom.
- Programs and initiatives: Secondary buildings implemented the Be Nice action plan this school year.
In the Classroom
Starting during the fall 2019 semester, every classroom in the district will focus on lessons and activities focused around one of the five competencies of mental health. Swanson said she will work with counselors to devel
op lessons that will be passed on to teachers to present to their students.
“No matter if your child is in kindergarten or 12th grade, we’ll be covering the same topic, but of course, at a different level,” Swanson said. “Something like, being self-aware means something very different depending on what age you are.”
The district started with PBIS in 2013, “and this is the next layer where we’re adding social emotional learning,” Swanson added.