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Navigating Mental Health in Schools

Melissa Bragg, Abraham Gutman, Kevin Kelly, Christopher Oswald, Stacy Schwab — School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Inquirer

As schools continue to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on community members, one thing is for certain– mental health challenges loom large. In the context of overburdened traditional mental healthcare resources, schools are often left as the support system for students and families struggling to maintain mental and emotional well being.

Our community, John Hancock Demonstration Schools, is a neighborhood public K-8 school in the School District of Philadelphia. In the previous two years, it became abundantly clear that declining student mental health, manifesting in ways ranging from academic struggles to unsafe behaviors, was taking its toll not only on the students themselves, but also on families and staff members. In response, we have become more deeply interested in exploring ways to empower all community members to understand student mental health challenges and to meet students where they are as we work together to foster healthy 21st century citizens.

In this conversation we will intentionally avoid “admiring the problem,” while also allowing the space for participants to speak openly about problems of practice and build community around a common challenge. Our school will share how our community meetings, use of data, and the practice of centering joy have kept us afloat during these difficult times, though we are primarily interested in facilitating a conversation that pulls together best practices and deeper questions from all participants.

Conversational Practice

Facilitated by the Hancock administrative team and Philadelphia Inquirer mental health reporter Abraham Gutman, the goal of this conversation is to promote networking among educators from a variety of school contexts who are wrestling with the common challenge of student mental health, as well as to share solution-oriented strategies for maintaining healthy school communities. As such, this session will be interactive with time set for individual reflection and sharing of ideas.

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