Back to School: Student and Staff Mental Health

By Elizabeth Krubsack, Education Consultant, and Molly Herrmann, Education Consultant, DPI

The first day of school remains a momentous event for families with school-age children.  The backpacks, the school supplies, the endless front porch pictures.  But some things are clearly not business as usual.  Where they eat lunch depends on how far they can get away from their classmates.  They pack multiple masks to change out when they get too damp.  Buses have assigned seats.  Households get multiple symptom check emails each morning. The list of new normal goes on and on. 

Besides changes to daily life, the pandemic has affected students in Wisconsin in a variety of ways.  According to interviews of Wisconsin youth conducted as part of The Voices of Wisconsin Students Project: Learning, Coping, and Building Resilience During COVID-19, many youth are experiencing more mental health challenges and less social connectedness. As a result, both experts and students emphasize the need now for youth to have time to restore important relationships both in and out of school.   For more information, check out The Office Of Children’s Mental Health’s Fact Sheet, Rebuilding Children’s Mental Health.  This resource supports the need for school administrators to prioritize time spent restoring peer and adult relationships and embedding discussions of student experiences, coping strategies, and reflections into the classroom this school year.

These important conversations can happen as part of school programming meant to foster mental health literacy and decrease stigma related to mental health.  Administrators looking to bolster their school’s universal mental health promotion efforts should consider utilizing DPI’s new mental health literacy units for elementary, middle, and high school students. These units of instruction utilize a skills-based health approach to increasing student mental health literacy, or the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to develop and maintain positive mental health, identify mental health challenges in self and others, reduce stigma, and seek appropriate help. The units include lessons that focus on developing skills such as self-management, advocacy, and communication as they relate to mental health.  The lessons are free and can be downloaded here.

This school year also brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities for educators, who have been working tirelessly to provide continuity and connection for their students amidst ever-changing conditions. Now, more than ever, educators need to work in safe, supportive environments that provide opportunities to develop compassion resilience.  Compassion resilience is the ability to maintain physical, emotional, and mental well-being (using energy productively) while compassionately identifying and addressing barriers to learning for students and barriers to caregivers and colleagues being able to effectively partner on behalf of children. 

For more information and resources on bolstering staff compassion resilience this school year, check out the Compassion Resilience Toolkit.  In conjunction with Rogers Behavioral Health, DPI will be providing three free trainings this school year to train educators to implement this toolkit.  For more information, contact Liz Krubsack, [email protected], or Molly Herrmann, [email protected].


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