By Jean Foster and Andrea Murphy

Mental health has become a topic of daily conversation in today’s world. This is especially true in the field of education. A growing number of our students are affected by mental health issues, either directly or in their daily environment, which is heavily impacting academic success.

This fall, under the direction of the Monroe County Intermediate School District (MCISD) Superintendent Stephen McNew, Ed. D., and with unanimous support from the MCISD Board of Education, the MCISD formed a Mental Health Services Team. After numerous conversations with local area schools, community partners, and state entities, the MCISD hired three full-time employees funded by a combination of 31N grant funds and MCISD general fund dollars. This was the first step in creating a team dedicated to mental health that will service all local area schools in Monroe County.

The Team, led by Jean Foster, is housed at the MCISD main campus and works directly with schools in crises and assists in creating proactive approaches that address mental health.

Additionally, the Team has created protocols for schools to reference when confronted with a mental health issue and offers extensive professional development and training in the area of mental health to all Monroe County educators.

To help spread the word about this support, the Team works closely with the MCISD Communications Department. The MCISD Communications Department packages the Team’s resource materials, promotes its professional development and training, and helps The Team communicate with staff, schools, and the community about mental health.

The creation of this Team is directly in line with countywide health goals and initiatives, as well as state initiatives that address the whole child. Recent strategies from the Monroe Community Health Improvement Plan (2019) aim to increase mental health awareness for youth and adults, improve access to resources, and decrease the stigma of mental health in our community.

Further, teachers have repeatedly voiced that they do not feel they have the knowledge or skillset to address the mental health issues they now face in schools. Not only is this detrimental to our students, but it is causes concern for our teachers’ health as well. They are feeling burnt out, secondary stress, and perhaps mental health issues of their own due to taking on these issues.

To address these concerns, the MCISD Mental Health Services Team offers professional development to our school staff in areas such as trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Youth Mental Health First Aid, Psychological First Aid, and more. Additionally, the Team has developed step-by-step flowcharts for first-line administrators to refer to in a crisis. Plus, the Mental Health Team hosts a series of round tables that connect local agencies to our school staff so we can break down the barriers between school and community services.  Lastly, it is equally important to focus on positive mental health practices that can be given to our school staff regularly to encourage self-care and promote positive life skills in the classroom.

By doing all of this, we can reduce the stigma of mental health and instead, encourage all people to practice healthy mental health strategies daily.

The mission of MCISD is to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world. This mission is not directed solely at academics. The Monroe County ISD is dedicated to reaching the whole child, which includes the academic and social-emotional growth of students.

Today, we see a strong need for mental health support in our county schools. We’re building a system that takes a more proactive approach to mental health: using a whole-child approach to break down barriers related to awareness and the coordination of mental health services.

Moreover, we’re working to prepare our staff and further listen to their needs. Our goal is to build capacity which centers on improving mental health services in the areas of professional development, increasing awareness and prevention services, planning for a crisis, and building relationships with our community agencies. We aim to better align our policies, processes, and practices between education, public health, and school health, and in doing so, improve learning and overall health for students.

Thanks to the innovative actions of the MCISD’s leaders, we’re not just talking about mental health; we have a team and a plan to address it.

 

For more information contact:

Andrea Murphy
Communications Coordinator, Monroe County ISD
Michigan School Public Relations Association (MSPRA) Member

Jean Foster
Mental Health Crisis Coordinator
Monroe County ISD