In addition to the individual efforts of teachers, mental health education has been an increasingly important topic in elementary and secondary schools. In order to provide comprehensive curriculum to students, national and state programs have provided funding options through grants and stipends to incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) into their syllabus. Various states have utilized these grants to create programs that fit the needs of their students and provide them the support and mental health education they may need during these demanding years.
Schools that have applied for and were granted national or state funding have executed programs and benefited from their results. Unfortunately, some schools have overlooked federal/state education funding for SEL programs. In order to increase awareness and provide students with support and resources for mental health issues, schools must identify the programs available and take appropriate measures to apply for the available grants.
On a national level, there are policies and programs that offer funding to schools to implement mental health education. Schools can apply to various programs offered through federal legislation and are financed by the United States Department of Education. Current legislation that discusses funding for these programs is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), which explicitly mentions the availability of funding for mental health prevention-related activities/programs (The Center on Education Policy, 2014). Specifically, this legislation provides the opportunity to fund teacher and principal training and recruiting programs, small and/or rural school achievement programs, rural and low-income school programs, and many other options for funding (CEP, 2014). In 2015 an amendment to the Public Health Service Act was proposed. This amendment was intended to further develop comprehensive mental health programs by providing funding and support (H.R. 1211, 2015-2016). The bill requires mental health programs to aid children dealing with trauma and violence, and also allows community programs and local educational agencies to receive funds to create these types of programs (H.R. 1211, 2015-2016). The aforementioned funding is provided by the national government and can be acquired through an application process.
Districts in various states have taken matters into their own hands and created policies and programs that integrate emotional and social learning into their schools with the help of ESEA Programs. The Austin Independent School District in Texas has created a program to integrate social and emotional learning principles into academic lesson plans (CEP, 2014, p. 10). They fund this program with a Title II grant outlined in ESEA, which allows them to provide salary support to staff that implement SEL programs. Also, stipends are provided to teachers so they can attend professional workshops that focus on SEL skills (CEP, 2014, p. 10). Another example of an exemplary ESEA funded program is in Effingham County, Georgia, where a Homeless Education Assistance Program supports homeless children by maintaining their academic engagement while providing assistance with homelessness (CEP, 2014, p. 24). Funding options through state programs can also be utilized to help implement SEL programs. Program availability is determined by the state.
The Austin Independent School District is devoted to the SEL program they created. AISD is recognized as a leader in the creation of a social and emotional learning program that commits to the development of “the whole child,” (The Austin Independent School District, 2016 para. 3). During the 2015-2016 school year, AISD expanded the program to reach all 129 schools in their 86,000-student district (AISD, 2016 para. 3). Classroom teachers are the main resource for the implementation of this program, and additional SEL “skill lessons” are taught once a week to compliment other curriculum. This particular program takes into consideration students who are limited English learners by translating the program into various languages to suit their needs. Surveys are conducted to determine the success of this program, and a new partnership with CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) and the American Institute for Research will help to create an evaluation that better determines the effectiveness of the program (AISD, 2016 para. 20). This district has advanced the quality of mental health education, and continues to modify and evolve.
In Effingham County Georgia, a program specifically designed to improve mental health amongst homeless teens emerged in 2007. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program was designed as a supplemental instructional support that allows homeless students to meet the same academic standards set for all children (Effingham County Schools, 2010, para. 1). In this community homelessness was recognized as a disruption to a student’s success in school, specifically at the high-school level. Social and emotional issues such as anxiety can manifest into school absences and frequent changes in schools (Effingham County Schools, 2010, para. 1). Since its inception, this program has helped over 500 homeless youth maintain academic engagement by providing advocacy services, tutoring, and other related assistance to reduce anger, self-esteem, and goal-setting issues (CEP, 2014, p. 10). This program targeted a specific SEL issue facing their community, and utilized national and state funding to implement a program to assist homeless youth.
It is critical for schools to not only to know about federal and state funding for SEL programs, but also understand the role of the school in promoting student mental health. In a study conducted in 2010, 63% of schools provide prevention services, but approximately 50% of schools use only school personnel to provide these services, neglecting experts in the field (Langley, Nadeem, Kataoka, Stein & Jaycox, 2010). Only 23% of schools combine school/district personnel with outside mental health experts to execute the activities or programs (Langley, et al., 2010). The quality of services provided in schools is unknown, and there is little research to accurately calculate the success of these programs (Langley, et al., 2010). In an article from the journal Public Health Reports, authors Howard Adelman and Linda Taylor state, “School staff and public health professionals share goals related to education…ultimately, they must collaborate with each other if they are to accomplish their respective missions,” (296). A combination of [effort] by school staff and public health professionals can increase the effectiveness of an SEL program.
In order to increase the effectiveness of these programs, future research is needed to determine the success of school mental health education. Although funding exists, it is imperative to consider the quality and effectiveness of these programs. Enhancing mental health in schools is not uncomplicated, but can be administered without disrupting a school’s mission (The National Center for Mental Health in Schools at UCLA, 2010). Positive mental health has been linked to students successfully overcoming barriers in learning. If policy, practice, and research are interlaced with current curriculum schools may reduce mental health risks and in turn, this will create a multifaceted approach towards overcoming mental health issues. (NCMHS at UCLA, 2010). With increased opportunity for funding through national and state programs, there is more opportunity for schools to provide their students with mental health education.
Mental health education is progressing in elementary and secondary schools with the help of state and nationally funded programs aimed at involving students in social and emotional learning. In order to provide students with an encompassing education, programs involving social and emotional learning are popping up all over the country. With the help of national and state grant opportunities schools can fund programs that provide their students with the support they need. Although implementing this type of curriculum may not be easy, it has shown positive results in various communities. Students face many challenges through elementary and secondary school years, and having social and emotional skills can help to improve their quality of life and in turn, their educational experience.