Hundreds of school professionals met in Bloomington this week to focus on how they educate children – including their emotional and social needs – and organizers say the efforts could help Indiana make progress on key education issues.
Indiana School Mental Health Initiative director Cathy Pratt says schools focusing on a child’s entire set of needs can help prevent teacher burnout, while improving life outcomes for Hoosiers.
“One of our concerns is that oftentimes our teachers don’t have the support,” she says. “And they lose the resilience because of trying to be compassionate towards these children who have very very tough issues.”
But Pratt says for teachers to get that support, schools need more funding.
“We can’t keep asking schools to do more and more without giving them more money,” she says. “I think we’ve stretched them beyond their limits.”
Teams from districts across the state met at the state’s first Educating The Whole Child Summit to share ideas and plan how to build up systems of support in their own schools.
Professionals at the summit say focusing on a child’s needs outside of academics can play a vital role in teacher retention and keeping schools safe, but social and emotional learning are crucial for improving student learning.
Pratt says addressing a student’s needs in school also gets to the root of another hot topic in Indiana: preparing kids with soft skills they need in the workforce. But ultimately, she says, when schools can invest in efforts to meet all of a child’s needs it leads to greater student success.
“There’s a lot of research out there that shows when children are socially and emotionally healthy, they do better academically,” Pratt says. “Testing doesn’t achieve it, changing curriculum doesn’t achieve it.”
Lawmakers are focusing more on mental health and social emotional learning in schools as they work through school safety measures. The Senate approved a school safety bill earlier this week that largely focuses on getting more mental health programs in schools.