Mental health is a priority at Grand Rapids Public Schools when students return

Grand Rapids, Michigan – Grand Rapids Public Schools has stepped up its mental health efforts, with less than a third of students surveyed saying they feel a sense of belonging and connection with adults at school.

A district-wide survey of students in grades 6-12 was conducted in March. A Panorama climate study showed that many students in the same age group struggle with self-efficacy, the belief that they have the ability to succeed.

Using the results of that survey, GRPS is placing more emphasis on the mental health of its students and staff this year, Mel Atkins, executive director of community and student affairs at GRPS, told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. rice field.

The district is increasing the number of mental health staff in schools this year and launching a pilot program to train professional development teachers related to social-emotional learning (SEL), Atkins said.

“We know that the more our academics and adults are mentally healthy and have the resources they need, the more likely everyone is to thrive at a much higher rate,” Atkins told MLive. We deliberately decided to focus on that this year.”

After two years of coronavirus pandemic, many students (and adults too) are grappling with mental health challenges stemming from distance learning isolation and global pandemic uncertainty, educators say say.

“Last year was a very tough year for us and for many people across the country,” Atkins explained. “A lot of it dealt with mental health.”

To meet these challenges, GRPS is hiring more staff this year, including mental health therapists, school counselors, and psychologists who can work with students in these areas, Atkins said.

This year, for the first time ever, every GRPS building will have at least one mental health therapist.

I couldn’t say that last year or the years before that,” Atkins said.

GRPS has 18 mental health therapists across the district, compared with just six last year, Atkins told MLive.

In addition, 14 GRPS schools will be served by the Kent School Services Network this year. This network connects families to community resources through local schools.

Related: Kent County community school students have access to support and services to remove barriers to learning

“When you look at the combination of these resources, every school will have some form of support,” says Atkins.

The district is also investing in student mental health by training the people students come into contact with every day: teachers and school staff.

“One of our beliefs, and what our research shows, is that we can’t make a big difference in the school environment without affecting adults,” said Atkins. .

GRPS has launched a pilot initiative in eight schools this year, where staff receive professional development training at SEL and are working to create a SEL curriculum that will eventually be launched district-wide.

Schools that have chosen to participate in the pilot this year are Aberdeen, Burton Elementary, Burton Middle, CA Frost Elementary, Campus Elementary, Cesar E. Chavez, Coit and Sibley.

The plan is for all staff from these schools to be trained in the CASEL framework this year. It stands for Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Teachers learned about self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness, and Atkins explained how these five competencies look in the classroom.

In the spring, eight pilot schools will provide GRPS leaders with feedback on SEL training, he said. The district plans to use that feedback to adopt a district-wide SEL curriculum that will be adopted by all schools district-wide over the next few years.

“This will be a multi-year implementation process,” he said. “This is like a reading curriculum. We have a math curriculum. I want to inject it into my math teaching, so it’s not just a standalone.”

GRPS Superintendent Leadriane Roby said teachers are an important part of a child’s school life and that’s why school districts are beginning to train school staff.

“Teachers set the tone for the classroom experience. They create the climate,” Roby told MLive.

“They also have to be able to recognize, ‘Oh, Johnny looks different or he’s not at school,’ and they say, ‘I don’t have to be an expert, but I need to talk to the school counselor. or a social worker

More about MLive:

First morning of sophomores in a Grand Rapids classroom

Grand Rapids students excited to learn, show off style on first day of school without uniforms

Kent County community school students have access to support and services to remove barriers to learning

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