Massachusetts launches schools’ initiative to address mental health

By Phyllis Hanlon
April 13th, 2021

Throughout the last year, schooling has looked significantly different than in any other year. The spread of COVID-19 prompted the state to temporarily suspend in-classroom learning. In some cases, schools opened and then shuttered their doors shortly after as cases of the virus increased.

Although some in-person learning has resumed, students have the option of remaining remote or attending school in a hybrid model.

This February in Massachusetts, a new initiative was launched to address the mental health issues that might arise for students during the current pandemic. School principals and administrators, teachers, guidance, and adjustment counselors will attend virtual training sessions.

A partnership between Open Sky Community Services, the Worcester Public School System, the Lunenburg Public School System, and districts in 20 other communities across the state was actually designed prior to the pandemic, according to Suzy Langevin.

Langevin is director of training and professional development for Open Sky, the agency that runs the Bridge Training Institute.

Langevin reported that the “Mental Health in Schools Series” concept took root last spring. Open Sky worked with Fran Kuehn, LICSW, private practitioner in Newton, Massachusetts, and Sharon Saline, PsyD, private practitioner in Northampton, Massachusetts, to create workshop content.

“With Mr. Kuehn’s expertise in implementing whole school models for social emotional learning and trauma informed practice, and Dr. Saline’s approach to addressing student needs based on their neurobiology, we really felt we had a program that would help support schools develop and enhance a holistic approach to student mental health,” said Langevin.

Once the pandemic hit, it became apparent how much more crucial these trainings were going to be as schools attempted to meet the academic and emotional needs of their students through a variety of remote, hybrid, and in-person models for this school year, Langevin added.

She said, “Our trainers have done a phenomenal job, not only to adapting their content to move online in the Zoom platform, but also in addressing the challenges of remote and hybrid learning and student reintegration within these topic areas.”

Langevin said that participants from more than 20 public, private, and charter schools from Massachusetts will participate in one or more workshops. She noted that the pandemic has forced the organization to pivot to virtual training, which has actually allowed the initiative to reach an even wider audience, drawing from geographically diverse communities such as West Springfield and Nantucket.

According to Langevin, the goal of the series is simple: to give educators, administrators, and school personnel the tools they need to support strong, supportive relationships with their students that will help all involved build resilience and mastery throughout the incredible challenges of the pandemic.

Kuehn said, “There’s no learning without relationships. The schools that will be successful in navigating virtual learning and bringing students back into the classrooms will be the ones who focus on building strong, trusting relationships.”

These workshops will provide schools with skills to help foster all those crucial relationships: student to teacher, peer to peer, school to community, Langevin said.

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