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    August 9, 2023

    How to Unlock the Power of School-Community Partnerships to Support Student Mental Health

    Local schools and the larger community have a common interest: To improve student outcomes—academically, socially, and developmentally. Throughout the last decade or more, a mile-high roadblock impeding progress has been the steep rise in student mental health issues and suicide, further intensified by the ramifications of COVID-19. 

    The figures are shocking:

    There are many reasons why mental health issues have become so alarming. For example, families may not know where to go for help, or there may be few providers in their area. While schools have long played a central role in providing treatment, they have limited budgets, staffing, and resources. Further, high costs, little or no insurance coverage, and the time and effort required make it hard for parents to get professional help for their children. 

    This is where school-community partnerships can provide solutions.

    School-Community Partnerships Offer a Path Forward

    School-community partnerships hold the most promise for delivering unmet mental services beyond what schools alone can provide. At issue is how schools can reach out and build the cooperative relationships needed to fill the gap in mental health services and support for educators, parents, and students alike. 

    Fortunately, there are many opportunities to gain expertise, resources, support, and funds by partnering with community stakeholders, including mental health providers, community agencies, non-profit groups, local government, school councils, business leaders, and other public and private agencies.

    Essential Elements for Successful School-Community Partnerships

    School-Community Partnerships can take many forms, depending on the needs and resources of the school and community. Several key elements in addressing mental health concerns include engaging parents, linking with mental health professionals, involving local businesses, training educators, and teaming up with local government.

    School-Community Partnership Possibilities

    Creating collaborative partnerships between the school and other community resources requires a multi-pronged approach that takes time and resources. Instead of taking a scattershot approach to developing partnerships and programs over time, schools should develop an action plan.

    Below are some program ideas that may spark school-community partnerships in your school or district.

    FOCUS 1: Engage Parents 

    School-community partnerships play a crucial role in strengthening shared connections with parents and caregivers. Schools can form teams of parents and community experts to accomplish the following: 

    • Co-create materials and programs that build awareness in the community about mental health issues.    
    • Create a parent-school communication strategy that defines school-to-parent and parent-to-school communication for student mental health concerns.  
    • Create and distribute a monthly newsletter to the school community providing information about mental and physical health topics, highlighting school and local resources, and promoting relevant events.    
    • Recruit local experts to be guest speakers at workshops or seminars focusing on mental health, child development, and parenting/family topics.
    • Provide parents with opportunities to volunteer in the classroom or at school-hosted functions.  
    FOCUS 2: Reach Out to Mental Health Professionals

    Local mental health professionals can help expand access to counseling and treatments, provide expertise and information, educate the school community, and help create policy. Ideas may include:

    • Work with local agencies to develop a referral process that ensures equal access to services for all students and families.  
    • Invite mental health partners to school meetings or parent sessions to share information about their mission, services, and how they work with schools and families.   
    • Team up to develop classroom curricula, parent workshops, and other programs on mental health topics.
    • Create a school-community team to determine how to obtain the right mental health screening tools. 
    • Work with community partners to update and communicate reporting mechanisms that ensure students and families can quickly access help in a mental health crisis.
    FOCUS 3: Involve Local Businesses 

    The business community has a vested interest in the community and recognizes the connection between an effective school system and a qualified workforce. Consider these ideas for involving local business leaders:   

    • Create a Speakers Bureau of business leaders who volunteer to speak about their work experiences in the classroom, participate in panel discussions, and otherwise share their experience and advice.
    • Create an internship program, providing students with real-life work experiences.
    • Develop a program to help students set up mini-businesses and provide ongoing mentoring.
    • Recruit businesses to participate in a school-wide or district-wide career fair.
    • Create a Business Advisory Board to create activities and programs linking students with the local business community. 
    FOCUS 4: Train and Support Teachers

    The educational process is more effective when students—and teachers—are well in body and mind. Here are some ways that partnerships can help teachers gain knowledge, reduce stress, and support their students:      

    • Work with public and private agencies to develop teacher toolkits, professional development workshops, and seminars on mental health and family topics.
    • Develop a Teacher Stress Reduction Plan developed by a team of teachers, administrators, the school psychologist, a community mental health professional, and possibly a business leader who has enacted a successful program for employees.  
    • Have a community volunteer lead a session on stress-reduction techniques that can be used in the classroom.
    • Ask businesses and community groups to sponsor mental health awareness materials and programs.
    • Ask businesses to help fund supportive technologies, such as the STOPit HELPme for K-12 Schools mobile platform, which provides parents and students with a direct connection with self-help resources, crisis counselors, and school and community resources. 
    FOCUS 5: Connect with Local Government Resources

    School boards and councils must work together to provide the best support for students. Joint participation in committees, coalitions, and projects can address areas of mutual concern regarding student mental health. Ideas include: 

    • Work together to create or enhance afterschool programs that support academic learning, development, healthy lifestyle, and other positive factors in a supportive environment.
    • Partner with local councils to create a plan for more efficient coordination, integration, and delivery of community services.  
    • Explore how pooling school and local government resources can help schools access funding for projects to improve student mental health.  
    • Invite local government representatives to school council meetings to weigh in on strategies, issues, or projects related to student well-being and safety.   
    • Develop a violence prevention program in coordination with local law enforcement.

    Help Students Thrive With School-Community Partnerships

    Children are best served when educators and the larger community collaborate on strategies, programs, and activities that support the whole child. School-community partnerships can provide a comprehensive, proactive approach to helping students thrive. STOPit Solutions provides ways for schools and community resources to join forces, supporting educators, students, and families in accessing needed support to help protect their physical, social, and emotional well-being.

    importance of family engagement

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