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Vermont schools call for more mental health support for students, staff

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 5:56 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The state is once again shifting its focus on schools from COVID crisis mode to educational and emotional recovery.

I spoke with a school psychologist and the teachers union, and they absolutely agree. Students cannot learn if they are not emotionally there.

But it’s also not just about the students. The pandemic has been hard on everyone and educators and staff also need help.

“We have staff, faculty, teachers who are also struggling,” said Shannon Newell, a school psychology professor at Castleton University and a school psychologist.

Newell says students are struggling to readjust and the shortage of educators brought on by the pandemic has created a stressful combination for the education system.

“When we aren’t able to manage the stressors we are experiencing, then that’s when our brain gets filled up with and there isn’t room left to do the academics,” Newell said.

Newell says the recommended ratio is one school psychologist to 500. But currently, Vermont’s ratio is one to 1,040.

“We absolutely need to have additional mental health services in our school,” said Don Tinney, the president of the Vermont NEA.

Tinney says schools needed mental health services before the pandemic and now they are imperative.

The state pushed to return to in-person learning because of the decline in social and emotional health among students.

Now, those resources must be provided.

“It’s more important that our students be healthy in terms of their social, emotional well-being than whether or not they are caught up to grade level,” Tinney said.

Vermont Education Secretary Dan French says the state focused on reengaging students last summer and it was a success.

“We are now planning on directing our state-level federal resources on the academic and social-emotional needs of students. At this point, I expect we will be able to make that pivot toward the end of February,” French said.

Each district has its own struggles, but Newell says some schools have teams and are able to provide layers of support.

The more collaboration schools have, the better everyone will be in the long run.

“This is a long-term problem and it’s going to require a long-term solution. We can’t just expect this to fix itself overnight,” Newell said.

Newell says the Vermont Association of School Psychologists is working with the Agency of Education and House committee to determine how to put these changes into place.

On Thursday, people will be testifying to Vermont’s House Committee on Education on mental health and school-based needs.

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