Next to the extreme importance of changes in gun regulations, when it comes to mental health and school safety, many critical conditions are thus far overlooked or ignored by policymakers. The first and most important is to know every student at the school.
Parents should ask, do they know my child at school? Educators should ask, do we know the students, each one, at this school?
When discussing mental health, policymakers should look at creating better-personalized schools, not focus on technology and data collection. Students should get the best education and emotional and behavioral support.
Know Every Student should be the school mantra. Too often, schools become cold and impersonal due to past reforms.
Here are five ways this can change.
1. Class Size
Some high school teachers have upwards of 150 students or more! Even kindergarten classes where students get their introduction to school might be 30 students. Many students fall through the cracks when schools and classes are large. Class sizes should be manageable so that teachers can know their students well.
In inclusion classes, students with emotional and behavioral disabilities might need more attention from the teacher, who must have support. If this doesn’t occur, students miss out on the attention and assistance they deserve under IDEA.
Smaller classes can help teachers recognize and address bullying behavior.
If schools don’t have the funds to lower class sizes, and even if they do, they should bring back homeroom, where students can get some individualized attention and know they have a school adult in their corner who will go to bat for them. See here, and Gregory Sampson, Grumpy Old Teacher, also recently recognized the value of homeroom.
2. Community Services, Including Residential Placement
Communities must provide a blanket to assist students with severe mental health problems by establishing good mental health care centers with specialists and schools and residential placement in extreme cases.
Instead of shutting down residential facilities like they’re doing in New York, forcing parents to call the police when they have a crisis with their child, New York, and other states should improve their community services, including residential placement.
We should not return to the terrible mental health facilities of old, but to better modern facilities where parents and children receive longer-term support from real professionals and well-paid trained staff.
Some students need to step away from their families or families need to work along with their students to improve the overall situation. They require a longer time to identify difficulties with psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers.
There should be no stigma attached, only professional assistance to help children and families get the support they need to have a better life.
Students denied services remain at risk.
3. Qualified Teachers
Every general education teacher should receive university education preparation to identify characteristics that indicate when a student has emotional or behavioral disabilities.
It’s one of the reasons fast-track-prepped teachers like Teach for America aren’t good enough and why collecting online information about students has little value.
In the past, there have been paper checklists, and behavioral assessments, to assist with this. There should be no need to enter this information online. The individuals that can help are at the student’s school working face-to-face with the students.
The student’s behavior can be carefully documented at the school and shared with the parents.
4. Special Education Teachers
Under special education, teachers require additional university instruction to work with students who present emotional and behavioral disabilities.
They might be resource teachers, self-contained, or team-teach to work collaboratively with general education teachers.
5. Support Staff
Teachers should be able to turn to counselors, school psychologists, administrators, and special education teachers who understand emotional and behavioral disabilities to provide resources or full-time exceptional education support.
Special education has always involved evaluation, referrals, and placement committees involving the parents so that it isn’t one individual making all the decisions affecting the students.
Every school must have support staff to immediately help identify and assist students with emotional and behavioral disabilities and to write Individual Educational Plans.
6. Whole Curriculum
Some students are not academically inclined or have learning disabilities that hold them back. Along with resources to help students with disabilities learn, schools must provide alternative programs that are helpful to students and society, including career-technical education and the arts.
Students need to know they have career options, and high schools would benefit by providing career counselors who help students find their niche.
These are a few suggestions to make schools more receptive to those who present emotional and behavioral disabilities and for schools to Know Every Student.
Perhaps you have more or different ideas. Please feel free to share them here. Public schools are your schools.