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Transforming Schools into Healthy Learning Environments The Impact of Safe Schools/Healthy Students

Too many students across the country worry about their safety in school, and that unacceptable reality prevents them from learning and thriving. But the roots of youth violence—and the solutions—are complex. Educators need as many realistic, proven, and evidence-based solutions as possible. SAMHSA’s Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) Initiative has been helping schools implement solutions since its inception in 1999, transforming schools across the U.S. into safer, healthier learning environments.

Since 2014, over 200,000 students have been served by SS/HS programs and services in 21 communities across seven states. The results? More than 30,000 students have received mental health services in school settings. A significant number of teachers, staff, and others have been trained to better detect possible mental health problems among students. More young children are now screened for behavioral issues before starting school. Fewer students have experienced or witnessed bullying and violence on school grounds—and there are fewer suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary actions reported at SS/HS schools.

How are these successes possible? There are two primary components central to this landmark initiative’s success: collaborative partnerships at the state and local level, and recognition that when it comes to creating safe and healthy schools, “one size does not fit all.” Powerful partnerships between states, schools, and communities work to identify school and community needs to select the programs, interventions, and services most likely to improve the well-being of the students. Outcomes at the local level are now helping states determine how to expand the SS/HS model across new school districts and communities to replicate success.

For a fuller picture of how the SS/HS approach is changing lives, be sure to check out the new SS/HS Infographic Innovation That Works on the National Resource Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention website.

Explore just two of the many examples of SS/HS successes in Connecticut and Nevada.

Spotlight: SS/HS in Connecticut is Committed to Training

Connecticut’s commitment to SS/HS was clear from the start. The state created a new interagency partnership between the Departments of Education and Mental Health and Addiction Services to implement the SS/HS Framework in three local school districts—Bridgeport, Middletown, and New Britain. Collectively, these pilot school districts serve more than 36,000 students in districts with disproportionate disparities when compared to other districts in the state.

An early commitment to training resulted in over 3,300 individuals trained in identifying mental health issues early on and over 7,300 mental health professionals trained in related practices such as adolescent Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). In New Britain, 1,350 individuals participated in a Love Wins training by the Ana Grace Project—an initiative in memory of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene (first grade student at Sandy Hook) with a goal of increasing connections and decreasing violence in schools and communities.

Connecticut’s early commitment to extensive training was a commitment to sustainability by ensuring that more and more individuals can effectively help students in need of mental health supports.

Spotlight: SS/HS in Nevada Sets a Healthy Path Forward for Its Youngest Students

The state agency partnership between Nevada’s Department of Education and Department of Public and Behavioral Health implemented SS/HS with a key goal of rebuilding education and mental health resources that were depleted during the state’s economic depression of the last decade. However, rebuilding did not mean returning to the past—it meant establishing better practices and programs going forward.

Nevada recognized that prevention works, and a key to prevention lies in promoting healthy social and emotional development in early childhood. That’s why the Lyon, Nye, and Washoe counties committed themselves to training local school staff and early childhood professionals to implement routine developmental screenings for young children using the Ages and States Questionnaire. All three counties increased the numbers of these screenings for children 5 or younger—and each county also increased the number of early childhood centers that implement evidence-based social and emotional learning programs.

By supporting the behavioral and mental health of its youngest students, Nevada knows that these children have a better chance of being healthy, happy, safe, and academically successful throughout their years in school.

To learn more about SS/HS, or to read other grantee success stories, visit the National Resource Center’s Grantee/Field Spotlights webpage.

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