Schools have the power to transform student mental health at a time when youth mental illness is at crisis levels.
But they often lack the resources to staff and fund mental health programs, forcing school leaders to either get creative or let students go without therapy, counseling, and social work services.
Andria Amador and Nate Thompson are school leaders who took the creative route to ensure students get the help they need. Amador, the senior director of behavioral health services at the Boston school district, spent the past decade developing and cultivating partnerships with city government officials, university programs, and hospitals to get more school psychologists and mental health professionals into schools.
As director of social, emotional, and behavior services in Littleton, Colorado, Thompson has helped his district leverage a partnership with the Littleton Public Schools Foundation to create a mental health resource program, which established a network of vetted therapists to provide therapy for free to students.
Amador and Thompson sat down with Education Week during the 2023 Leadership Symposium on May 11 to discuss how district leaders can ensure mental health services are meeting students’ needs. The three-day symposium in Washington, D.C., brought together teachers and school leaders from across the country to talk about innovative ways to address pressing issues in education.
Amador and Thompson highlighted three key ways districts can improve mental health: establish universal mental health screening, use school psychologists for their expertise, and leverage community partnerships to expand resources.
The goal is to make school mental health services move past special education evaluations to reach all students who might be struggling, Amador said.
“The journey first started with us changing how we did our work: We had to do self-reflection. We had to do training and skills assessment,” Amador said. “Then we said, ‘OK, if we know how to do more, how do we change the system so everything doesn’t become a special ed evaluation?’”
The work is especially important as school leaders grapple with an escalating youth mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and social media. On May 23, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling the effects of social media on youth mental health an “urgent public health issue.”
“Mental health and social-emotional wellness is a critical part of any community, and the school is a part of the community,” Thompson said. “What we’ve realized is we can’t do this alone.”
On May 10-12, 2023, Education Week brought educators and experts together for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration.
Below is a selection of sessions from the symposium that are available on-demand. Access the entire event here.
Featured Speaker: A Leader’s Agenda: Cultivating Joy, Resilience, and Learning at School
Featured Speaker: ChatGPT, A.I., and How Schools Should Be Thinking About Digital Learning
Panel Discussion: Successful Responses to the Student Mental Health Crisis
Panel Discussion: Getting New Teachers Off to a Strong Start
Leadership Interview: Best Practices for Supporting Students in Gifted and Special Education
Leadership Interview: How to Build a Bench of Diverse Educator Talent