(by: Karen Campbell, Weakley Co. Schools Communications Director)
Wednesday marked the 100th of 180 total instruction days in the school calendar. Now past the halfway mark, Weakley County Schools will remain as focused on health and safety as they were at day one, say directors charged with ensuring training in both areas.
To underscore that focus, Safe Schools Coordinator Lorna Benson and Coordinated School Health Director Bethany Allen offered training for more than 175 teachers and staff prior to the students’ return in January, met with School Safety Coordinators this week, and Allen is doing health screenings throughout the county while Benson is overseeing the final touches on a new security addition.
As part of staff development prior to the students’ return, an all-day workshop held at Gleason School and Westview High School helped faculty learn more about Safety Care®, a crisis prevention program from Quality Behavior Solutions offering strategies for preventing and managing behavioral challenges and teaching replacement behaviors. After achieving certification as program trainers in the fall, Matt Butler, Katie Brewer, Lisa Beam and Shelley Featherston led the instruction at Westview and Bethany Allen, Sierra Kirk, Rebecca Covington and Brittany Kendall taught at Gleason.
That same day nurses from Greenfield and Sharon as well as district staff joined faculty from Dresden Elementary and Middle to hear Sean Jones and Sherri Sedgebear of Carey Counseling Center cover Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). The workshop at Martin Elementary was led by Carey Counseling’s Dale Mathis and Kimberly Chisolm along with Janet Watkins, Director of Training for Tennessee Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education (AWARE) for the Tennessee Department of Education.
YMHFA is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. The course introduces common mental health challenges, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.
While teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and friends may want students to talk, to verbally help translate what is going on internally, Jones noted that “many times, behavior IS communication.”
“Young people don’t know about mental health disorders, self-regulation, etc. Their behavior is often times an unspoken cry for help,” he concluded.
Similar trainings occurred in the fall. Thus far, 245 teachers, administrators and other staff have completed the training.
“We want parents to know that Weakley County Schools offer a multi-faceted approach to student support … not only academically but in terms of dealing with social and emotional issues,” explained Benson.
She called Safety Care and YMHFA the “perfect complements” to the longstanding Student Assistance Program (SAP) which contracts with Carey Counseling to provide behavioral health assessments, brief solution focused therapy and referrals to community resources when or if needed. The SAP is a resource that is available to all students enrolled in the system.
School Safety Coordinators meet routinely throughout the school year. The group is made up of building level Safe School Coordinators and School Resource Officers. This week they reviewed summaries of recently completed site safety assessments, discussed upcoming child abuse prevention training opportunities and Emergency Operations Plan maintenance. Benson concluded the meeting with an update on the rollout of the newest security resource for schools.
Health screenings for both students and faculty are also happening. Those include vision and hearing for students, along with blood pressure and grade-specific screenings such as scoliosis for 6th graders and color vision for 2nd. PE teachers are conducting BMI.
For teachers and faculty, Allen is helping to provide staff wellness screenings such as body fat percentage and BMI. School nurses are coordinating other faculty-focused health activities like challenges based on maintaining healthy balances of water intake and sleep.
While Dresden Middle has a blood drive scheduled for next week during their Kindness Challenge, Gleason hosted a drive last week. Martin Primary, Elementary, and Middle hosted drives in the fall. Greenfield has a competition among class parents scheduled for Feb. 20. Dresden High had one in the fall and has another on the calendar for Feb. 28. Westview will host another of multiple drives on March 18.
“We in Coordinated School Health find value in looking at the whole child, and we focus on any non-academic barrier to learning,” explained Allen. “If we can fit a child for glasses, for example, or discover a hearing impairment and address it, they will be more successful in the classroom.
“Of course, taking care of our staff and understanding their well-being is just as important,” she concluded. “Plus it’s a great model for our children of practicing a healthy mindset.”