Schools’ initiative on mental health looks to be smart

Every state legislator should make a mental note of this initiative.
Expanded School Mental Health is already in 40 schools in 20 counties and for anyone that’s results-driven it’s “an investment in the future that works,” as one state official put it.
One proposal throughout the public education reform debate that continually grades higher than others is the need to address the issues students face beyond academics.
That is, behavioral issues at school that are the result of tough situations at home ranging from the opioid epidemic to endemic poverty.
One of the planks of the failed SB 451 allocated $25 million to be distributed evenly to 55 school districts for school support personnel (nurses, counselors, psychiatrists, etc.) as they see fit.
That proposal has won support from all sides, including teachers, parents, school administrators and bipartisan support in the Legislature.
That proposal alone, if put to a floor vote, would receive overwhelming approval. However, politics is holding it hostage until other controversial measures are approved.
Still, whether this measure advances or not, the Expanded School Mental  Health (ESMH) initiative should be extended statewide in next year’s regular legislative session.
The program is overseen by the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Education. It costs $900,000 yearly and is funded through June 2020.
However, judging by some other numbers about this program, its trend toward success is clear, including:
Some 50% of  ESMH middle schools exceeded the state’s behavior standards. Statewide 34% of middle schools did.
Meanwhile, 33% of ESMH high schools topped the state standard for graduation rates. The percentage was 17 for all high schools.
There were more than 9,700 early interventions with at-risk students at ESMH schools.
And 93,000 total prevention steps dealing with issues such as substance abuse and suicide.
As a rule, the schools use grants from ESMH to stage early interventions and provide counseling services.
We’re no public school counselors but even nonexperts like us, know that to ignore behavioral, emotional and social needs of students just sets them up to fail, or worse.
Yes, some will argue that schools are not where students should come to for mental health counseling. But the reality is for many it’s their only hope to address the problems that determine their future far more than any exam.
Everyone has a mental block about something or another, be it public speaking or learning new software.
Yet, we cannot allow for a mental block to children’s success contingent on politics and funding.

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