Recognition of the critical importance of mental health in the education of young children has brought significant change to Laconia’s Pleasant Street School (PSS) and other district schools.
Increased attention to mental health and resources for the schools has brought school-based social workers and therapists as well as opportunities for training in areas such as trauma sensitivity. The mental health awareness, trauma training, and Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) framework have supported Laconia schools in making the shift from reactive to proactive responses to student behavior.
“We’ve had trauma in school and haven’t known what to do. Now we’re trained
and have a framework to work within,” a PSS guidance counselor reports.
A key message of the trauma-sensitive learning training was that children who have experienced a traumatic situation are often not able to focus effectively on learning until they have healed causing their academic achievement to suffer. The PSS program provides a safe, structured routine, so children know what to expect. The program gets kids “wrapped” into the school setting to help them to relax when they arrive. A powerful resource for students who have experienced trauma is a yoga practice developed for post-traumatic stress disorder. District funds have made it possible for staff to be trained in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga by David Emerson (Trauma Center) and Amy Weintraub (Kripalu Institute).
In spring 2016, the PSS guidance counselor and preschool teacher piloted the Adverse Childhood Experiences tool with parents of preschoolers transitioning to kindergarten, with the goal of using the ACEs to learn about student needs from parents. “This was an ‘aha’ moment for us, confirming significant challenges some kids face,” reflected a PSS preschool teacher. To support this work, the SS/HS project manager is bringing social workers to the elementary schools to work with young families to address mental health challenges.
An unintended and important outcome is increased attention to the mental health of everyone in the school community, including parents and teachers. The PSS preschool program places strong emphasis on connecting with families and parents through its monthly family meetings. Parents feel ownership in the program and have a sense of belonging to the school community. Providing this positive school experience to both parents and students has transformed the growth and progress of the students and improved the family-school dynamic.