To the Editor:
EdWeek recently ran an opinion piece, “What Districts Need When Investing Their Funds” (Feb. 1, 2023). The authors identified multiple areas districts should invest in and noted at the end that social-emotional and mental health supports should be prioritized.
As a psychologist with more than 35 years in the field of child development and early-childhood education, I agree that social-emotional learning and mental health should be prioritized—and should be prioritized above all other supports.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of people of all ages. There are short- and long-term consequences for this increased mental health crisis facing children and the adults who care for and teach them. While adults are still susceptible to stress and anxiety, ideally, they have already learned how to manage challenging emotions. However, many children have not yet learned self-regulation and don’t have the tools to adequately deal with emotional challenges. The result: decreased academic performance and behavioral concerns.
Emotional and cognitive circuitry is interrelated. Positive emotional learning experiences strengthen neurological connections within the prefrontal cortex—the brain’s epicenter of executive functions, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving. When the brain is overwhelmed with dysregulated emotion, it cannot learn. Children must be taught how to regulate their emotions. For this reason, mental health must be prioritized over academic performance.
A one-on-one approach, such as increasing counselors, while appropriate in some cases, will not address mental health for the masses. Teachers and children need to have social-emotional learning as a preventive intervention model woven into their daily activities. While investments in tools and programs to improve academic outcomes are important, mental health needs to be the number one priority.
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2023 edition of Education Week as Federal Funds Should Be Prioritized to Support Mental Health