The Missouri Board of Education is working to craft a statewide plan to help deal with the intensifying social and emotional needs of K-12 public school students. During a board meeting Tuesday, member Kim Bailey says the COVID-19 era has aggravated these problems.
Bailey, from western Missouri’s Raymore, is a licensed mental health and trauma specialist. She says the state needs to identify the gaps that exist among kids.
“We know that by virtue of the way everything is set up right now, that there are students falling through holes, educationally as well as social-emotional,” says Bailey. “If we don’t do this and fill in this social-emotional gap that has been created because of COVID-19, I feel like we will never win the battle on the educational gap.”
She recommends the effort be based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals of Mental Health, which has definitions about what “healthy” is.
“I’m wanting us to have a system that is moving our state forward, that stays out of, what I’m going to say is paradigms and politics, and focuses on what is tried and true that the mental health profession has researched for 70 years and says ‘This is what is healthy.’ It gives our students a foundation, moving forward, on how to be healthy and how to live well,” says Bailey.
In 2015, Missouri put in place social-emotional learning standards. Bailey says Missouri has “set the curve” for the rest of the nation.
She says the latest effort would not be a new program. Instead, it builds upon what is already in place and makes it more cohesive.
“The problem is, is that we’ve had COVID-19 since then. So, we need to re-evaluate our approach and make sure we are adjusting to fit the new need that came from COVID. We are the only state that is even having this conversation,” she says.
Member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, of Pasadena Hills in St. Louis County, says generations of children have had their learning impacted.
“I want to call out what may not be obvious but COVID-19 and the impact to social-emotional learning is essentially the outcome of undergoing trauma and a traumatic experience. Children in impoverished, marginalized situations have been impacted by trauma, have had their social-emotional learning compromised. So, this is not new. This is not new,” she says. “A part of me is cringing because we’re talking about it like it’s new but in fact, we’ve had a new trauma that has just exacerbated a problem that has existed for a long time. I can’t underscore how important it is for these kinds of interventions because a prolonged, if you study the science and you look at how brain chemistry changes when you undergo trauma for prolonged periods, we’re potentially facing a very dire set of circumstances if a good contingency of our children are having those experiences.”
“I absolutely agree there are individual impacts of this but there are also systemic impacts of this that we need to make sure we are addressing through an evidence-based psychologically sound approach,” says Bailey. “There’s been such a deconstruction of understanding of what it means to be human, or dare I say a healthy human. There’s been all these definitions of what it means to be human, but many of them step outside of the concepts of what we would consider psychologically sound. What this does is it gives our students a psychological footing based off of the mental health profession of what it means to be a healthy human.”
Member Peter Herschend, of Branson, applauds the plan.
“The trick will be to put it into actionable form that the average classroom teacher out there can grasp,” says Herschend. “I think Kim is on sound ground here talking about the COVID-19 impact on social-emotional learning. It’s an area we never even talked about two years ago.”
The endeavor is in the early stages. Board Vice President Victor Lenz questions how much extra work the approach would be for teachers.
Bailey says many elements are already in place.
“Just like we teach physical health, it would be teaching what it means to be mentally healthy. A health teacher could teach these concepts,” says Bailey. “You don’t need a licensed mental health professional. It wouldn’t be a big lift. The sooner we get this into the hands of our teachers and students, the better equipped our students will be. This is again teaching them how to think – not what to think.”
Lenz says community support on the rollout is key.
“People have to see the positive results and how it’s going to affect positively the overall education that we’re doing in order to get the support to implement this kind of thing, rather than resistance. I 100% think we need to do this, I totally agree. But we’ve got to be very, very careful how we do it in order to get the support that we need from everybody involved,” says Lenz.
Bailey suggests reconvening a work group on learning attainment. It could come up with recommendations to get the ball rolling on an overall plan.
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