In the last 6-7 years, we have seen a significant spike in the number of students coming to school with severe behaviors Many are simply not ready to learn. While I have my theories as to why we are seeing this large uptick, I am certain that this is a societal issue that is not going away soon. More and more children with mental health concerns are entering our schools and quite frankly, we are not prepared enough to help them.
Many people would say that it is not the job of schools to deal with mental health and that it is the parent’s role to ensure that their children are ready to learn. Some would even say that if children are not, then we shouldn’t let them come to school. That could not be further from what children need. For many children, schools are the only place they can feel safe and cared for by trusted adults. Moreover, the biggest problem is not the changing student population, it is how quickly we can learn how to help these struggling students.
Here is what we know…most children can be taught to regulate their own behavior and to develop trusting relationships with others. You likely know that children with adverse childhood experiences, or trauma, have extreme difficulties making decisions on how to appropriately behave because they can only “feel”. Their responses to challenging situations are driven by their limbic brain where fear resides. They can only “fight or flight”. Thus, they become extremely dysregulated.
We can teach children to regulate their behavior and to better deal with difficult situations, but we simply don’t know how to do that. We were trained to work with students who are using their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is used for decision making, by asking them questions like: “How do you think that makes him/her feel?”or “Was that a good choice or a bad choice?”. This logic based approach will not work with students who can only feel.
In order to educate our students, we must teach the whole child. To do so, we need to learn how to help students with struggles that are new to us. We need to learn why students have these needs and to develop a common framework and vocabulary for helping them to succeed. I believe that when we do so, we can actually help to teach students to regulate their behavior.
Furthermore, schools need help, and a lot of it. We can do this, but a system of mental health support that is integrated with schools, coupled with ongoing training for teachers and staff, is essential to meeting our students’ needs. Senate Bill 266 is something that can help us. It is designed to increase funding for schools to help students dealing with mental health issues as well as funding for teacher preparation programs to provide instruction to future teachers.
Senator Crider, R-Greenfield, authored SB266 and it passed the senate by a vote of 29-20. The article in Hendricks County Flyer can get you up to speed a bit, but suffice it to say, I believe that we need help…and a lot of it. SB266 gets us going in the right direction.