Last Monday, over 600 educators from across the state convened at William Jessup University in Rocklin to address the mental health and wellness needs of modern youth as a critical success factor for their profession.
Organized by Wellness Together, a non-profit headquartered in Rocklin dedicated to working with educators to respond to the mental health issues of students, this event was co-sponsored by the California Department of Education. Gordon Jackson is the Director of Coordinated Student Support Division for the CDE. He opened the event with these words: “It’s time. We need to have this conversation and address the stigma of mental health. Twenty percent of students have some mental health issue, and their behavior is not simply of their own volition – it’s more than that.”
At this convention, educators gathered to better understand the new demands on teaching modern youth, who are stressed beyond the experiences of previous generations and a larger portion of the student population are experiencing mental and behavioral health issues that impact learning. According to a 2016 report from the Child Mind Institute, one in five children are experiencing a mental disorder, and 50 percent of disorders start before age 14, and 75 percent of mental disorders start before age 24.
At the opening plenary session, Barbara Kronic, LCSW and board president of the California School-Based Health Alliance, explained that her experiences and fieldwork have taught her that the quality of relationships in the education system impacting the student, from the teacher to the highest levels of administration, must be understood from a mental health and wellness standpoint. “We need to learn about the systems that are available to help, and engage students who are suffering with mental health issues,” she said. “And this is not what you have trained for [as educators].”
She encouraged teachers to gather what they can from this convention and use it to help students access the resources available to them, so they can be well and pursue academic success. “Student wellness needs to be our first priority,” she said, “And the challenges of students today leave them no escape from bullying, social media, and academic and extra-curricular demands.”
Recognizing this reality of modern youth, many of the breakout sessions addressed trauma-informed responses to student behavior. Trauma-informed responses consider insights about how past childhood experiences, such as sexual abuse, violence, addiction or depression, impact and reinforce current behavioral health issues and can be very instructive to help educators respond to the suffering student who is acting out or withdrawn.
Of particular interest for educators and parents alike are the insights offered by Dr. Michael Furlong, distinguished professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The premise of his science of education is called CoVitality a survey approach which recognizes that the fundamental question about well-being we ask of our youth is pivotal. “Why are we not asking our children if they are well?” he said. “In the balance of all things going right and wrong each day, why are we not simply asking our children how their life is going?” He points to surveys indicating that when students are reporting that their lives are going well, in general, their academic performance correlates.
Furlong explains that students essentially have four tasks in their daily experiences, and they are drawing conclusions about who they are in the world. These tasks include: 1) building a world view of themselves, and structuring their world; 2) finding their own fit in the world; 3) developing/establishing emotional competency; and 4) engaged learning. “These are the four student domains: belief in self, belief in others, engaged learning and emotional competence,” he said. With this understanding, he explains that CoVitality intervention and prevention tools are predicated on improving a sense wellness about how the student perceives his life is going.
It is good news for the modern stressed-out student that educators are exploring how to put into practice Aristotle’s adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” We all have experienced this truth as students, parents, teachers, co-workers, and employers: people don’t care about what you know, until they know you care. Marlon Morgan, executive director of Wellness Together, summed up this movement to educate the whole child by asking people to consider the difference between being known which involves a deep connection in relationship, and being known about which is more like a resume. “The number one thing that makes a human being valuable, of being worthy of this judgment-free connection, is simply because they are,” he said. “Every human being is the most valuable thing on earth.”
To learn more about Wellness Together, go to: www.wellnesstogether.org The next educator conference is scheduled for March 1, 2018.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.