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Schools to train pre-K teachers in 'mental health first aid'

Through a state Community Partners Safety Grant secured by Henderson County Public Schools and the Western Region Education Service Alliance, certified student services staff will be providing training to child- and family-focused organizations to support young children and their families in Henderson County.

 

Beginning Saturday and extending through April, school district administrators certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid and Trauma-Sensitive Schools will provide training to 200 local pre-kindergarten professionals whose organizations feed directly into the school system, including 80 participants this weekend.

District elementary teachers, school board members, social workers and other staff will also participate, providing an opportunity for school system employees and their pre-K colleagues to get to know each other and work together on these issues so crucial to school and student success.

Matt Gruebmeyer, Director of Student Services and certified trainer, describes the new training opportunity as “one of the most popular, effective, and pervasive of our safe schools and student success initiatives.”

“Those who work with children recognize that the road to student success often requires that we build bridges over the mental health and trauma-oriented challenges facing our students," he sad. "The YMHFA and TSS training give us the tools to help build that support for the children we share.”

Created specifically for HCPS educators and representatives from Smart Start Partnership for Children, Western Carolina Community Action, Helping Hands Developmental Day Program, the Children and Family Resource Center and the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County, the workshops will bring valuable and systemic resources to the county organizations supporting child health and education.

“The truly unique part of this training with our community partners is that we are preparing students before they enter public schools,” said Adam Parent, HCPS Assistant Director of Exceptional Children and certified trainer. “Research has shown that early intervention is the best intervention, and building common language, tools, and strategies in pre-kindergarten and school age environments is a great first step.”

Designed by the National Council for Behavioral Health for school staff, family members, health and human services workers, and other child caregivers, the Youth Mental Health First Aid program trains participants to recognize, understand and support students, colleagues and others who are faced with a behavioral health concern or crisis.

With a focus on common conditions such as ADHD, Anxiety and Depression Disorders, Substance Abuse and Suicide, participants in YMHFA training learn to see related signs, symptoms, and risk factors; protect students by establishing safe classrooms and positive relationships; and intervene to help keep students, their families, and others safe.

Trauma-Sensitive Schools (TSS) teaches educators to realize the impact of adverse childhood experiences on development, to recognize trauma’s impact on learning and behavior, and to respond by building resilience and avoiding re-traumatization. Like Youth Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Sensitive Schools training is meant to ensure that students and children impacted by trauma or mental illness can learn and be successful in school, at work, in their relationships, and when engaged in their daily activities. TSS trained staff are provided with skills to support and nurture children socially, emotionally, and educationally, and will teach children to become more resilient, regulated, and connected to their families, schools, and community.

Thanks to grant funds from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, representatives from the selected organizations will attend the Saturday trainings at no cost, and receive a stipend for their time. Parent said, “The timing of these trainings is perfect for our school system; as we are simultaneously making our school buildings safer, we are giving staff members the tools they need to support students’ social and emotional learning.”