Having supportive and trained staff personnel in school is critical for improving the well being of the child and for improving the learning process and academic development. As adults, we tend to overlook the issues that children might be facing; and more often than not, we sideline those issues by labeling them as minor and petty.
However, one must not underestimate the impact that even a trivial incident can have on the mind of a young adult, what to say of the adverse circumstances and issues that these children face. One in every four children experiences some or the other kind of mental health disorder, and half of these are diagnosed with the disorder when they are not even 14 years of age! Moreover, half of all children will experience a traumatic event, which can be the death of a parent, extreme poverty, physical abuse, etc. even before they reach adulthood. Children are also not ignorant of the addictions and substance abuses that their parents practice, and this creates havoc in their family life. It is no wonder then that the children feel insecure and fear that their family is slowly tearing apart, and they carry all of these burdens to school. To add to their woes, children are also battling other numerous issues every day, such as puberty, bullying, peer pressure and family matters like parental divorce or re-marriage of one or both of their parents.
Having experienced some kind of trauma has a direct relation with lower academic achievement and attainment. It also brings along a lower standardized test score, and an increased chance of being diagnosed with a learning disability or behavioral disorder later on in life. In fact, children who have experienced trauma or mental torture have a spillover effect on their peers, which ends up changing the context and culture of the entire classroom. Researchers have found out that when a student of a particular class is experiencing domestic violence in the home, the reading abilities and math scores of the fellow students also rapidly decline.
It is obvious, and is proven by the above facts, that a student’s mental health and his or her achievement record are closely interlinked to one another, and that the two are not mutually exclusive terms. Unfortunately, despite the widespread need for mental health services, and the increasing awareness that such services are urgently needed; far too many children do not have access to this kind of a support. In fact, over a period of one year, out of a total 100 children and adolescents between the age of 6 and 17 years who needed mental health services, only 20 children could receive these services in their schools. Shockingly, these conditions exist when it is well known that early intervention can go a long way in improving the academic performance of the child, building resilience, and reducing the risk for major harm and psychological disorders later on in life.
Perhaps the reason why so many children do not get access to mental health services is because of the shortage of these service providers in schools, and schools are the most common place for young people to be able to avail these services.
The condition of mental health personnel in schools is pathetic. School psychologists operate at a ratio much higher than what is recommended, which means that one single person is serving multiple schools. Apparently, with so less of these personnel, it is impossible to meet the needs of the students, and to strike a bond with each one of them.
This problem is critical, and is only increasing with each passing day. However, the solutions are also plenty and if implemented properly, they can go a long way in solving the issue at hand. Specialized support personnel can go a long way in selecting and implementing high quality socio-emotional learning programs. These kinds of programs target to improve the social skills and academic achievements of students, and can greatly improve the overall environment that prevails in the school. Such programs are especially effective in reducing problems of violence and bullying, which are increasingly common these days. Moreover, the skills that the socio-emotional program would imbibe are particularly important, even for early childhood education; and students who can learn and acquire these skills are more likely to obtain a high school degree, college degree, professional trainings and diplomas or a full time job once they grow into an adult.
Every students who needs an academic or guidance counselor should have access to this kind of an adviser, who can help the student in college and career choices. This is because many students would be the first ones in their family who would be attending college, and they desperately look around for help in planning and executing this process. Since they have no person in their family who can guide them in this aspect, school counselors should voluntarily step forward to act as an academic counselor, and provide the required counseling.
As an another step in this direction, academic counseling and mental health counseling roles can be separated, and students should be entitled to have access to both kinds of support as and when they need it.
In conclusion, one can sum up the following points that would help to create a safe and healthy environment in schools. Additional specialized instructional support personnel, known as SISP would have to be hired, which includes school counselors, psychologists and social workers, in order to ensure that students have not only academic, but also mental, social, emotional and health support. Besides, staff-to-student ratios would have to be reduced, to ensure that the students’ well being and academic achievement can both be improved simultaneously.
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