DuPage to provide mental health training to teachers, students
Mental health training will be provided to hundreds of educators and thousands of students in DuPage County over the next three years as part of an ongoing effort to prevent school violence.
The DuPage Regional Office of Education recently was awarded a three-year $400,000 federal grant from the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance. To qualify for the grant money, the county agreed to provide a funding match of $133,000.
Regional Superintendent Darlene Ruscitti said the money will be used to fund the "DuPage Trauma Informed Schools Initiative," which will train teachers and students through a "comprehensive trauma-informed" care approach that focuses on prevention of school violence due to unmet mental health needs.
"This is an opportunity to help more kids," Ruscitti said.
The first training sessions will be held next month.
Ruscitti said school safety has been a priority in DuPage since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. After that tragedy, the county formed a school safety task force that makes recommendations based on current data and best practices.
While various changes have been made to make schools safer, Ruscitti said there's a continued need to a focus on the mental health of students.
Research, for example, has shown that school shooters often feel rejected.
"They do not feel comfortable within the schools," Ruscitti said. "They feel isolated within the schools. There is a pattern since 1999. So it's very important that school climate become a very important part of what we do."
Ruscitti says social workers, counselors and deans do an excellent job. The training will help teachers better understand when a student is dealing with trauma caused by problems such as abuse, neglect and domestic abuse.
"These are kids that are in need of better support and better interventions," Ruscitti said. "There are tools and resources out there to help us do just that."
The training will be available to every private and public school in DuPage.
More than 400 educators will learn about four different programs, including one that helps them understand the effects of childhood trauma and improve student learning and behavior. The first training session in February will be about a disciplinary approach to reduce referrals, suspensions and expulsions.
The expectation is that educators who receive the training will go back and train others in their school districts.
Meanwhile, a program on understanding mental illness will be taught to middle and high school students.
"Ending The Silence," which was developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, teaches students the warning signs, facts and statistics about mental illness -- and how to get help for themselves or a friend.
Joan Glotzbach, DuPage's assistant regional superintendent for alternative services, said the plan is to train to 2,000 students annually for the next three years.
"Ideally, no student would graduate from DuPage County without having this presentation," she said.