8.0 Mental Health
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
The return to school will bring unprecedented challenges regarding the emotional wellness of students and staff. It is critical that our school community continues to focus on strengthening our emotional competencies to support equitable learning environments where all students and staff can heal and thrive. To accomplish this, the SEL work will align with the Five Core Competencies developed by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self -awareness, self- management, responsible decision making, social awareness and relationship skills. Research has shown these competencies to be critical to the development of emotionally healthy and competent adults.
School Counseling plans
School counseling plans will be reviewed and updated to meet the district’s current needs. Areas of considerations are:
- the use of the elementary counselors to support self-management and self-awareness
- utilizing school counselors as part of a multi-tiered system of supports
- utilizing a district wide referral process for students requiring support
- identifying and rectifying gaps in the completion of graduation requirements resultant of the COVID 19 school closure.
K-12 Counseling Advisory Panel
The K-12 Counseling Advisory Council (the Panel) is a working group comprised of parents/guardians, students, members of the board of education, school building and/or district leaders, community-based service providers, teachers, certified school counselors, and other pupil personnel service providers, including school social workers and/or school psychologists. The Panel informs the comprehensive developmental school counseling program plan. Before adopting any changes to the comprehensive counseling plan, the Panel will meet to review the changes.
Referrals for Support Services and Programs
A districtwide process for referrals to social/emotional support services and programs will be developed. The referral process will include steps to identify needs and appropriate interventions. The school Child Study Teams (CST) will process referrals and monitor student progress. If a student does not respond to interventions over a specified time, the CST will collaborate with the Department of Special Education to determine the next steps in supporting the student. Referrals from parents/guardians that are submitted directly to the Special Education Department will be forwarded to the building principal for review. Consistent with State regulations, the principal will have ten (10) days to review the referral and meet with the parent/guardian to agree upon supports or revert to the Committee on Special Education.
Professional Development and Building Capacity
Districtwide professional development programs will build the capacity of the faculty and staff to support students throughout and beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency. Additionally, schools will identify targeted training opportunities that support the development of coping and resilience skills for students, faculty, and staff. The districtwide SEL committee will support schools in the identification and provision of professional development. All training will target the development of the CASEL Five Core Competencies, with the goal to increase capacity to embed SEL throughout the school day for both students and adults.
As an integral part of the reopening plans, the district and school SEL teams will consider and address the following:
- The deepening of staff understanding of SEL, mental health, and trauma responsive practices through professional learning.
- Communication that stresses the importance of SEL as a priority and engages members of the school community in implementing embedded SEL into instructional practices
- How to partner with community agencies to enhance partnerships that will strengthen district initiatives.
- How to provide safe spaces for staff to process, connect and heal
- Adoption of a screening tool to assist PPS staff in identifying students in need of supports
- Articulation of a multi-tiered system of social and emotional supports (MTSS) that reflects a school-wide implementation of effective, evidence-based practices and strategies that all students can access.
- Identifying the necessary data to determine the effectiveness of the multi- tiered system of supports.
Prior to the reopening of schools, staff will be provided professional development that will help them identify trauma and provide in classroom supports for students. The focus of adult- student interaction will be thoughtful responses that consider the root causes of the student's behavior and determine the individual student needs to address the root causes. This approach shifts the response from a negative to a positive reaction to student behavior.
MTSS is an evidenced based approach to a comprehensive system that addresses behavior challenges. Supports are layered to include proactive, universal classroom interventions, secondary interventions for at-risk students and intensive supports high risk students. Movement through the tiers is determined based on the individual needs of the students. The work of the district and building level SEL committees will be to identify and implement the tiers of interventions. These structures and supports maximize the pupil services staff’s capacity to promote a safe and supportive learning environment for everyone in the school community.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion- al Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as, “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” The work of the SEL committee will be to create a common understanding of the breadth of the SEL competencies and support an integrated approach to the development of the competencies in both staff and students. Working as a team, buildings will support teachers in imbedding the competencies into daily instruction and creating spaces for adults to strengthen their own competencies. SEL competencies must be culturally and linguistically responsive and part of our districtwide equity work.
The prioritization of student and staff mental health and wellbeing is central to the reopening plan. The plan contemplates the needs of staff, family, students and community members as informed by the results of the SEL surveys. The survey data revealed the following areas of need:
- Social Emotional Learning Competencies
- Building Trauma informed schools
- Stress reduction and self-care
All resources and professional development will be aligned to relevant district data and the CASEL Roadmap for Reopening Schools.
During the COVID 19 school closure, adults in our school community have experienced stress, anxiety, grief and trauma. In the survey administered to staff, employees indicated that they would require ongoing support to manage and process their experiences during the COVID 19 school closure, along with strategies to manage resultant anxiety and stress. In creating the building-based reopening plans, each building, in collaboration with the district SEL team, will explore and plan for the following considerations:
- Ongoing support groups for staff led by either district PPS staff or an outside mental health professional
- Community building time to create a safe space for staff to come together and heal, professional learning and planning opportunities
- Access to information regarding the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Professional development in the areas of psychological mental health and coping strategies
- Professional development in trauma informed care and mindfulness
- Ongoing equity work
- Building based time during the Superintendent Conference Days for staff to come together for discussions regarding experiences during the closure, community building, identifying new needs, and scheduled support and communication.
- Robust SEL resource list
Priorities upon reopening will be to target school climate, transition back to school, respond to trauma, reengage students both academically and socially, and identify students who will require a higher level of support. Social emotional learning will be embedded into the curriculum to support the development of the CASEL 5 Core Competencies in the following ways:
- Professional development for staff on the foundations of SEL and embedding SEL into instruction
- Professional development for staff on embedding trauma informed practices into classrooms
- A planned transition back to school including visual supports for students on what to expect
- Synchronous daily meetings to build community
- Behavioral norming for both in person and remote instruction
- Professional development for PPS staff on building resiliency and coping skills in students
- Increased community partnerships to support SEL- community partners are a part of the Districtwide SEL committee
- Identification and administration of a SEL screener to identify students who may require Tier 2 or Tier 3 supports
- Universally available group counseling
- Leveraging building level SEL teams to create additional experiences for adult/student and student/student connections
In designing the reopening plan, White Plains City School District surveyed staff and parents and planned for the surveying of students. The resulting data will serve as a baseline. During the year students and staff will provide feedback to the building level SEL teams regarding the effectiveness of the interventions. In addition, data such as engagement in remote instruction, discipline referrals, referrals to the Child Study team, will serve to inform the future SEL needs of students and staff. Frequent informal feedback will be utilized to identify roadblocks and revise initial services and supports to both staff and students. Any review of the data will involve all stakeholders with a goal of continuous improvement.