President: Mental health key to school safety

President Obama speaking at the memorial for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT.  Source:  The White House.

President Obama speaking at the memorial for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Source: The White House.

President Obama wants to add up to 1,000 more mental health counselors and safety officers in the nation’s schools to improve safety. The President’s plan for gun control, released Wednesday morning and based on the recommendations of Vice President Joe Biden’s commission, calls for creation of a Comprehensive School Safety Program that seeks to prevent school fighting and bullying as well as violent attacks on schools.

The program, developed in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead, including 20 first grade children, would make available $150 million through grants for school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire school psychologists, social workers, counselors and school resource officers.  It’s up to individual districts whether they want to apply for these funds, but California alone has about a thousand districts.

“We need to make our schools safer, not only by enhancing their physical security and making sure they are prepared to respond to emergencies like a mass shooting, but also by creating safer and more nurturing school climates that help prevent school violence,” according to the plan, titled Now Is the Time.

The plan also cites a report by the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education following the Columbine shooting that found one of the best ways of reducing school violence is by creating an environment that fosters trust and communication between staff and students, improves attendance and reduces dangerous behavior, such as drug abuse.

The president is also recommending a new initiative called Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) that would provide $15 million to train teachers and staff to recognize mental health issues in children and young adults and encourage them to seek professional help. Another $40 million in Project AWARE would go toward collaboration among school districts, mental health agencies and law enforcement to ensure that students are referred to the appropriate agencies to get the help they need.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the report. “The actions that the president is taking and proposing to reduce gun violence echo what America’s educators say they need to better protect and support students in school and in their communities,” said Duncan.

Responding directly to school shootings, the plan requires every school to have a comprehensive emergency management plan and recommends that Congress provide $30 million in one-time grants to help schools pay for implementing these plans.

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4 Responses to “President: Mental health key to school safety”

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  1. Georgine Brousseau on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm01/24/2013 2:25 pm

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    As a retired elementary school teacher, I think President Obama’s plan for gun control is an excellent START, but it is a DROP IN THE BUCKET.

    Local & State governments, religious communities & non-profit organizations need to use this as an example & OPPORTUNITY to give help to the schools for in-school counselors & perhaps, schools & others need to change their VALUE SYSTEM on WHERE THE MONEY IS SPENT so much that a counselor per classroom would not be too much.

    Having the mindset of PREVENTION IS NECESSARY, but that should be simply a BY-PRODUCT of FIRST & FOREMOST, COUNSELING THE CHILD every week for the FULL INTENTION that EVERY CHILD (not just problem children) WILL THRIVE through an environment of TRUST & CARE not so much finding problems, but FINDING THE CHILD’S TALENTS, STRENGTHS & PURPOSE FOR LIVING & THRIVING. This would be a perfect OPPORTUNITY for the PARENTS to get involved with their child’s school as well, understanding better what is going on in their child’s school, the school’s NEEDS & what their child is learning & understanding better how to parent.

    We DEFINITELY NEED more counselors in our schools FOR the overly precocious child to the low self-esteem child to the well-balanced child & to FREE THE TEACHER so she/he will have time to teach subject matter instead of handling increasing behavior problems. Some schools when they make CUTS in the budget, cut counselors which are too far & few between as it is, & some schools SHARE COUNSELORS to the point of 1 (one) counselor per 3 (three) or maybe more schools. HOW can a counselor do any justice to 600-800 children in a year??? Maybe they would only have a little TIME left for those who are SEVERE cases once they identified them. The other children who need A QUALIFIED LISTENING EAR at the SAME TIME would have to wait until they started ACTING OUT LATER ON IN LIFE–maybe in junior high, high school or when they turn 23 or 40.

    Extra training for the teacher is fine in order to keep up with the times on spotting the specific behaviors of a troubled child, but although teachers study Child Development in college, TEACHERS ARE NOT THERAPISTS!!! Most teachers are burning the candle at both ends as it is. A counselor in each classroom would help the teacher on how to better deal with the child as well. It would promote mutual understanding for parent-teacher-child relationships & make for SMOOTHER TRANSITIONS into the next grade level or to any extra-curricular activities & HELP ALL CONCERNED to help the child identify a POSITIVE THRIVING FUTURE for themselves.

    If schools put ONE COUNSELOR PER CLASSROOM in their schools–Preschool-Beginning college, it wouldn’t be enough for excellence in some schools–maybe most schools.

    Hopefully, we’ll hear from teachers & counselors here in response to this important legislation. We’ve got to get our voices out there. No more bandaids on cancer!!! One good thing that came from the Sandy Hook Sadness was HOW GREAT THE TEACHERS, COUNSELORS, EDUCATORS PERFORMED LOVING THESE CHILDREN. Keep the Faith. Keep BELIEVING FOR OUR CHILDREN. Please write to Congress & get this started. FOR THE CHILDREN, OUR FUTURE.


    • navigio on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:53 pm01/24/2013 4:53 pm

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      Georgine, incredibly important post. The decimation of not only counselors but support staff in general over these leaner times and its associated impact on teachers has been staggering. This is even more critical now that with programs such as RTI or similar, as we are making a point of trying to keep more kids on campus, specifically the ones that need the most help.

  2. Karen Zuk on Jan 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm01/23/2013 2:16 pm

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    It is distressing that EMHI, the only early intervention and prevention mental health program that I am aware of in California that targets elementary school children, was eliminated due to lack of funding in the 2012-13 State Budget .

    It seems that when anyone is speaking of mental health programs/services for children the focus is on adolescents and teens, and mostly those that are already struggling with more serious issues. We really need to have more conversations that focus on catching the K-6 elementary school students before they develop problems that require more intensive (and expensive) services later on in their school life. Another important part of that conversation should be the importance of making these services school-based, where children are more likely to receive services. Parents tend to trust the school system and are more likely to agree to services if they do not have to be responsible for getting them to an off school site facility after school hours. Many parents to not have the time, money, or transporation to do this.

    I believe that making sure EMHI is funded in the 2013-14 State Budget, so our youngest students can get what they need early, should be a priority for our elected leaders.

  3. Scott Lindstrom on Jan 22, 2013 at 10:04 am01/22/2013 10:04 am

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    It is time to focus on mental health prevention and early intervention efforts, as these will have the most widespread impact on gun violence, bullying, and other forms of violence. This movement must include reaching out to students in schools K-12, not just our older students! Research has clearly demonstrated that children who will have anti-social and mental health issues can be identified early in their school years, and that services during these years can have measurable positive impacts on behavior, learning, and relationships. Service like these lay the foundation for future mental health, and provide the critical healing resources when children experience trauma at home or in school.

    You may recall from the EdSource article on July 16, 2012, that funding for the Early Mental Health Initiative was supported by the California Legislature and vetoed by Governor Brown in the 2012-13. WIth a mere $15 million statewide, EMHI grants funded programs that served mental health early intervention and prevention needs of 25,000 elementary school students. Rather than eliminating incentives and start-up funds for services such as these, we must advocate on behalf of our young children–those who cannot advocate for themselves–to reinstate and expand funding for such programs.

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