By Rachel Duff, Policy Fellow
Since July 2020, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has been hosting virtual webinars and meetings on a variety of topics for local education agencies and school leaders (registration can be found here). On September 15, OSSE brought in a panel of experts to focus on mental health in the District. Panelists discussed a range of programs and resources currently available to District residents.
Dr. Charneta Scott began the panel by discussing school-based behavioral health services. School-based behavioral health services cover the ways we respond and intervene for students regarding behavior rather than implementing punitive and authoritarian systems of behavior response. Behavioral health services are critical in disrupting the school to prison pipeline by providing our students opportunities to access resources that serve the whole child rather than just a perceived negative behavior. Dr. Scott explained that a phased approach to school-based behavior health services is in the works, which is an approach that focuses on prevention and is an early intervention level of service. This phased approach is currently in its third cohort. Originally. it was slated to include 60 schools, but due to COVID-19’s impact, it is currently serving 47 schools. This program, which places behavioral health clinicians in public schools complements services already offered to students and families, works within existing support services in schools to cultivate a safe and supportive environment, and provides support for teachers and staff. Lastly, Dr. Scott discussed the Department of Behavioral Health’s Parent Support Program. This program seeks to enhance the resilience of District families by providing coping tools and consultation services to help parents manage the stressors they are experiencing during this time of virtual learning. Within this parent support network, parents are able to access one to three individual consultation sessions at no charge, engage in Wellness Wednesdays (online every Wednesday at 5:30 pm, parents can join here: https://bit.ly/31JpYiv), and have access to weekly parenting tips through the on-demand video library. This support network includes parents of traditional public, public charter, and private school students. Dr. Scott pointed out that it could be an especially beneficial resource for parents who are also teachers themselves.
The second panelist, Dr. Olga Acosta-Price, then moved the dialogue towards community-based practices. She explained that the basis of this particular research is called the “Community of Practice,” which is essentially a group of individuals who are experts in their respective fields and collectively approach an issue in order to create a shared body of knowledge. She explained that in order to provide best practices, we must learn from and with each other to create a multi-tiered system of support. Dr. Acosta-Price further explained that to define a shared vision is to create accountability and community input, determining who we are, what we aim to do, and how we measure success. She emphasized that shared leadership is key to include community members for co-creation of solutions.
For District schools specifically, Dr. Acosta-Price continued to say that each school should identify a behavioral health coordinator to serve as a liaison with these experts on best practices. This year, 166 schools are represented in the Community of Practice model. Within this model, there are created spaces for educators, children and families, and the community. For instance, there are teacher wellness groups that meet monthly to discuss barriers to self-wellbeing and best practices in the time of virtual mental health services. There are also social learning spaces for children and families and these groups also meet monthly in a virtual setting. Lastly, there are monthly practice groups for the entire community to develop skills like social-emotional learning and crisis intervention/response.
Lastly, Cathleen Millar completed the panel by reviewing Kognito, a DC youth behavioral health program that provides training simulations to teachers and school-based staff. She reminded the audience that it is a biennial training year and that in order to be in compliance, educators must complete three mental health and suicide prevention modules before December 15, 2020. The training will be trauma-informed, grounded in social-emotional learning and aligned with the goals of school behavioral interventions. This will also satisfy the suicide prevention training. If educators need assistance they can contact Cathleen Millar at Cathleen.Millar@Kognito.com.
Overall, I found this session to be informative and a good introduction to some of the mental health initiatives and services the District offers. If you’re interested in attending one of OSSE’s webinars, don’t forget that you can sign up here! The next two webinars are scheduled for October 5 and 19 from 1 to 2 p.m. EDT.