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Articles Tagged with public schools

Thinking Outside the Box

An interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

We began this interview with the intent of focusing, as we usually do, on one person’s research. However, this query soon became—like the collaborative work it highlights—a joint project involving James R. Koller and Karen Weston of the Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology in the College of Education, two individuals working together to “think outside the box” by creating the Center for the Advancement of Mental Health Practices in the Schools, now affectionately called “the Center” by its members. “The Center was created in response to the rising number of students in need of mental health services today,” states its homepage. It was initiated “as a paradigm shift that recognizes prevention as a fundamental element in supporting our nation’s youth facing developmental challenges, psycho-social issues, and environmental stressors within the school system and community . . . with the whole thrust being a paradigmatic shift from mental illness to mental health.” Of course, “you’re never going to get away from mental illness,” admits Koller, “but instead of waiting until pathology occurs, the question posed to me was how we can do something different. How can we better prepare consumers at all levels to be better informed so that we can create a positive learning environment for each learner and increase her or his self-concept, while academic learning flourishes?”

Audio and Video Tagged with public schools

The Suicide Project (Weston)

From an interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

“We are seeing an increasing number of suicides. We have one district [in Missouri] that has thus far this year had six adolescent suicides. It’s just devastating in that small school district. More and more school districts are having to grapple with this issue,” says Weston. How to respond to this problem involves some controversy about which is the best approach to suicide prevention. The Center has recently developed an online course on suicide prevention. They have also undertaken research with school leaders to understand their perceptions on suicide prevention. As Weston explains, “some people think if you talk about it in the schools that’s going to make kids more likely to attempt suicide, which is not true. It’s a huge misunderstanding that’s out there. There are some prevention programs that promote screening of kids to see whether they’re potentially at risk for harming themselves, and that’s highly controversial.” Naturally, suicide prevention relates to the Center’s work in schools as well, “because we want kids to have good coping skills so that they’re not thinking about taking their own lives.”

Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners, Healthy Schools (Weston)

From an interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

Last July, the Center received a grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health. By holding focus groups with mental health professionals, the public schools, parents, child service workers, juvenile justice personnel, and so forth, they are seeking to address the question: “What could we do in schools and communities to help support healthy social and emotional development in children?”

Like teaching an old dog a new trick (Koller)

From an interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

In its mission to convince lay people and the professional community about the importance of early intervention, the Center has encountered several obstacles. Trying to modify teacher certification requirements to include coursework in this area, for example, has been like “trying to teach an old dog a new trick,” Koller recounts. For one thing, people tend to think that mental illness problems and substance abuse don’t exist in their own community. “There is a naiveté that befits the general society as well as the professional ones. We really have to work on shaping and re-shaping the mentality towards mental health; it is a systemic problem that is going to take a long time.”

Several of the Center’s ongoing projects (Weston)

From an interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

Weston describes several of the Center’s current projects. For instance, one of them seeks “to integrate mental health systems with education systems,” starting with the Moberly Public Schools, and eventually applying the model elsewhere. For this purpose, they have begun an organization called the Moberly Community Coalition for Children and Families to address children’s mental health. “It’s been a fantastic learning experience,” observes Weston. “They have really built awareness in the community around the need to address children’s mental health and to promote mental health. We take a preventative approach, arguing that we should be paying attention to children’s social and emotional development, that we should be promoting mental health the same way we promote physical health.”

Seeking paradigm change (Weston)

From an interview with Jim Koller and Karen Weston, Department of Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology

Weston’s personal vision for the Center is to change the way that schools operate so that there is better access to children’s mental health services. “In schools we can be academically oriented, which is important,” she says, “but we know that kids don’t do well in school if they’re not emotionally healthy. So it’s very important for their academic success as well as their long-term success in life that we start focusing on mental health promotion.” Happily, Weston reports that “the whole school mental health movement is really taking off,” but she also notes that “the needs are just profound in terms of the crisis in children’s mental health.” Whereas there are programs for childhood immunization, no such comparable program exists to address mental health – although mental health problems outnumber physical health problems. The Center’s premise is that “many of those mental health problems could be prevented if we take a more proactive approach. We’re going to have to wake up and start dealing with these issues.”