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Conversations About Student Mental Health

Conversations About Student Mental Health

Author: Christopher J. Leonard, MSW, LCSW, M.ED

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In this podcast, we talk with school administrators, educators, clinicians, and parents to open a dialogue that will help the growing number of students struggling with mental illness.
14 Episodes
In this episode, Chris Leonard answers questions about what schools can do to encourage healthy social media usage by their students, and prevent the problems that arise from harmful behavior on social media. The questions were submitted by school administrators, counselors, and teachers during our recent webinar: “Untangling the Web: How Social Media Affects Mental Health and How to Help.”Highlights include:How to address concerns about suicidal ideation What to do when negative interactions on social media spill over into schoolGetting buy-in from parents on healthy social media habits for studentsSetting consequences for inappropriate actions on social mediaThe importance of modeling
After more than a year of hybrid and remote learning, students have experienced a new normal of staying home. School professionals are concerned that a wave of school refusal will hit us this fall. How can we prepare?In this episode, Chris talks about strategies for school refusal intervention with Dr. Paul Barbato, Director of Special Services in Dumont, NJ Public Schools. Dr. Barbato is also an Adjunct Professor at three NJ colleges and holds leadership positions in several key NJ educational organizations.Highlights include:How to identify students at risk before the school refusal behavior becomes entrenchedWho should be included on a multidisciplinary team to address school refusalIdeas for a three-tier intervention plan: school-level, targeted groups, and individual supportsHow to get started and where to focus your efforts first
As we return to full-time, in-person learning, educators expect even more students to struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that interfere with their ability to learn and succeed in school. It's clear that there is a mental health gap that we urgently need to close in order to address the academic gap from lost learning during the pandemic, and ultimately to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students. Teachers, administrators, and school counselors must be ready to assist these students. So where do we start?Chris Leonard’s guest is John Reilly, Clinical Director of the Thrive Alliance Group. John is a certified psychoanalyst and a licensed clinical social worker with over 28 years in practice. He also served for 22 years as an owner and administrator of the Sage Day and New Alliance Academy therapeutic day schools. Currently, John provides weekly mental health coaching sessions to cohorts of school personnel. In this episode, John shares how this coaching process supports school staff in becoming more confident and more effective in working with students struggling with mental health issues.Highlights include:Why untrained school staff may be reluctant to get involved in matters of student mental healthThe “superpowers” school staff members can develop that help them intervene with both struggling students and angry parentsWhy typical mental health PD is often ineffective What coaching looks like, and how it builds confidence, empathy, and effective intervention skills How schools can use this process to create a culture that supports mental wellness
Dealing with race, equality, and bias is a problem that continues to confound Americans, in large part because we are not even comfortable talking about it. Yet our children and teens are watching events unfold in the world and they have questions, real questions. As educators, we need to support thoughtful dialogue. So how do we talk to our students and to each other in ways that are constructive and productive?In this episode, Chris talks with LaCoyya Weathington, Assistant Superintendent for Compliance, Equity and Student Services at the Cherry Hill New Jersey Public School District. LaCoyya's background in education spans 27 years with a focus on improving educational opportunities for students, including serving as Director of Education for the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission. Highlights include:Why the events of this past year have been traumatic for students (and not only for students of color)Exploring the notion of “colorblindness” and race as a social constructRecommendations for looking at practices, from curriculum decisions to disciplinary actions to hiring practices, to identify systematic biasResources to guide us in looking at our own thinking and behaviorHow to begin an honest dialogue with students and staff of color.“As an administrator, you can't be the person that's watching on the sidelines and not doing anything. Our role is to set the example for the district. For every person that interacts with us, we're setting an example. So we have to look at our own biases. And we have to be very courageous.”
We've all seen the national news reports declaring this spring's remote learning a disaster. Students and parents were worried about not feeling engaged, lacking socialization, and being just plain bored. Although schools are trying to create safe in-person learning, most will start the year in a hybrid mix of in-person and remote learning.In this episode, Chris talks with Dr. Nancy Sulla, author of five books on creating student-driven, blended learning environments. Dr. Sulla’s instructional plan for transforming learning is giving teachers an entirely new way to build student engagement, empowerment, and efficacy. Highlights include:How a hybrid learning environment can help students struggling with mental health issues.The 5 components that students need to get the most benefit from education.The “super skills” that teachers need to succeed with remote instruction.Why live-streaming is NOT the answer, and the better solution that teachers can easily do on their own.One simple thing teachers can do to prepare students to re-enter the classroom in the fall.
Dealing with Grief

Dealing with Grief


The COVID-19 outbreak has brought grief to the forefront, because nearly all of us are grieving right now. Many of us have loved ones who have died. Others have lost jobs, missed out on graduation ceremonies, or lost the daily social interaction that sustains us. What we've all experienced is the undeniable feeling that the future is uncertain. And that we really can't know when, or if, things will feel normal again. Life is never predictable, but we crave certainty, and can feel quite lost when we feel so deeply unsure about how the future will unfold. In this episode, Chris Leonard speaks with Christina Jelly and Jon Brandt, who both lost loved ones during the pandemic. Highlights include:The stages of grief and the different ways people may experience themHow the loss of shared ceremonies and support systems during the pandemic has impacted the grieving processHow young people may show grief in ways we don’t expectWhat we can do to help ourselves and support others experiencing grief
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks about how to understand and manage the anxiety many of us have been struggling with during the pandemic crisis. His guest is John Reilly, a clinical social worker and certified psychoanalyst with 30 years of experience working with adolescents and adults.Highlights include:Where anxiety comes from and the helpful purpose it can serve.How to lessen the physical symptoms that can come from repressed anxiety.Tips for overcoming unhealthy avoidance habits, such as alcohol or overeating.How anxiety can become a habitual response.The potential impact of anxiety about the current crisis on people who have experienced trauma. The best ways to talk to children and teens to minimize anxiety.  
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with two experienced special ed teachers about how teachers can support the growing number of students with mental illness... and how school districts must support teachers. Jessica LaForgia and RJ Laxamana share interventions that teachers and school staff can use to help students succeed and ensure a more productive school day for everyone.Highlights include:Signs of mental health issues in the classroomTips for building trust and getting students to open upThe importance of understanding the causes behind behaviorHow teachers can avoid burnoutThe support and training teachers need from administration
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Pat Hovey, a leader and innovator among NJ Directors of Special Services. Pat has worked to implement and fund successful programs for students with mental health problems in several New Jersey school districts, as well as serving as an advisor to numerous other districts. Chris and Pat discuss the process of obtaining funding for student mental health support, as well as funding sources.Highlights include:Your first point of contact when looking to fund student mental health programsThe easiest funding sources that Directors of Special Services already have access toFrequently overlooked funding sources you can use for mental health programsStrategies for getting buy in from districts leaders to pursue these funding sources
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Dr. Mary Rose Scalo, a former Director of Special Services in Wayne and in Parsippany. Chris and Mary Rose discuss strategies for dealing with the heightened stress experienced by students, families, and staff during the holiday season and when transitioning back to school after the break. Highlights include:How to identify struggling students who may be falling through the cracksTips for preventing a spike in school refusal following the breakWhy the holiday season is particularly difficult for special services staff membersWhat makes it impossible for school staff to provide help to students over holiday breaksRecommendations for how to provide school-based services that meet the individual needs of each student AND take the pressure off school staff
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Linda McGovern, a mental health clinician embedded full time in the Randolph, New Jersey public school district. Linda has worked effectively with many students struggling with school avoidance, and offers advice and specific strategies that schools can use to transition these students back to school. Highlights include:How to build a support team (and who should be on it).Why a disciplinary approach doesn’t work (and what works better).The role and responsibilities of an embedded clinician vs. a school counselor.The key to success with family involvement.Tips for implementing accommodations for school avoidant students.
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with a parent of a student who struggled with school avoidance. This is an increasingly common problem faced by students, families, and school districts, and one that’s challenging to overcome. Laura describes her daughter Kelly’s battle with school avoidance and shares the intervention strategies that ultimately helped Kelly get back to school.Highlights include:How school avoidance is different from truancy.The warning signs that a student may be on the path to school refusal.The most common underlying causes of school avoidance.What doesn’t work with students suffering from school avoidance.Specific things parents and schools can do to help the student return to school.
In this episode, Chris Leonard talks with Robert Ferullo (Principal of Weehawken High School and former Special Education Supervisor) about the proactive steps schools can take to prevent tragedies such as shootings and suicides. This can be a sensitive issue — one that we may prefer not to think about. But school administrators list preventing school tragedies among their top concerns.Highlights include:What happens when schools ignore students' emotional needsWhy a "softer" approach is recommended by experts as a more effective way to make schools saferHow schools can create a school culture of trust and open communicationThe three levels of mental health support schools need to prevent tragedies and improve outcomesHow school-based mental health intervention can actually save the district money
This first episode sets the stage for Conversations About Student Mental Health. Chris Leonard, clinical social worker shares some advice about the role of the school in addressing student mental health. Discussing such topics as:What is the schools responsibility when it comes to student mental healthHow can schools student mental health and perform their primary responsibilities of educating the student bodyHow to address the stigma associated with mental health issuesWhat kind of support schools may need to properly handle student mental health issuesHow to partner and implement programs that support school staff and administratorsTaking a proactive approach vs. reacting to a tragedyWhat the monetary picture looks like
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