The Adams 14 school district is proposing an expansion next year of mental health staffing and two programs, including mindfulness, meant to help students get out of “crisis mode.”
After significant pushback in the current year on cuts that were meant to have schools sharing mental health professionals, every school will have their own next year.
Kim Cini, the district’s assistant director of student services believes, however, that the work of helping students with mental health problems, can’t be only the responsibility of a particular staff member in a school.
“You are never going to have enough mental health workers, ever. You just aren’t,” Cini said. “We are at a time and place in education, in the nation, that it’s time for all of us to step up and get involved. You need your classroom teachers, your parents, volunteers, front office staff, everybody.”
That belief is behind Cini’s push to introduce mindfulness programming in the district’s middle schools. That programming is meant to teach students to also take charge of their own mental well-being and to teach them ways to cope with stress.
In elementary school, Cini helped introduce a curriculum called Random Acts of Kindness to help younger children learn social and emotional skills including coping with trauma, a common challenge for students in the district where more than 86 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch, a measure of poverty.
Three elementary school principals — from Dupont, Alsup and Kemp — tried out the Random Acts of Kindness this year, and Cini said they’ve seen results. Now, she is planning to expand the program to more schools next school year.
Pat Almeida, principal of Dupont Elementary, one of the three schools using the Random Acts of Kindness curriculum this year, said students get 30 minutes daily to learn coping skills, talk about current events on their mind, and plan activities meant to show compassion for one another.
“My staff is so much more focused on that time as being part of our wraparound services for all kids,” Almeida said. “It’s just part of what we do.”
Almeida said for most students the program has big benefits, but said for some students, it’s not enough help. That means often teachers are able to identify those students who need extra help more quickly and to provide them the right resources.
Long term, Cini said she will be looking at surveys in those schools working on mindfulness or Random Acts of Kindness to see if students report an increase in feeling safe, calm, or in sleeping better.
“We need to get them to go to sleep and stop that hypervigilance and hyperarousal,” Cini said. “They’re just hyperaroused at every little thing. I mean every time Trump comes on with something about DACA, we’re off to the races over here. It’s just crazy.”
Principal Almeida said the work has also made staff reflect more about the work as well.
“As adults we think we understand compassion and empathy,” Almeida said. “But to actually think about it and teach it is different.”
Cini said staff across the district are, like students, also in crisis, and often making decisions based on urgency.
“When you’re operating in crisis mode, you are hypervigilant and you start responding and your decisions become shaped around that,” Cini said. “You see a couple of kids wear a gang-related color and as a leader you make a decision to ban the color red based on the actions of a couple of kids. That’s a pretty big thing to do. We have got to stop making decisions like that.”