Why mental health support is a vital part of education

Two years ago today on a typical September day, my 6-year-old was a block away from school with my husband, waiting for the stoplight. It was a special day at school: her class was presenting a museum to the parents that morning.

And then a car ran a red light and plowed into their car.

Instead of school, she was rushed to the hospital by ambulance for emergency surgery.

I tell this story because I’ve seen some questions about how school psychologists improve student achievement. It’s the wrong question. The right question is how school psychologists improve education.

When you’re 6 and your life is turned upside down on the way to school, you associate school with the accident. You don’t want to leave home. When your mother volunteers in your classroom, you burst into tears and cling to her, refusing to let go when it’s time for her to leave. Every time. Until the end of first grade.

Because my school has invested in a full time school psychologist, I was able to walk her down to our school psychologist to help her calm down and focus every time that happened. Two years later the trauma isn’t totally gone, but my third grader looks forward to going to school again.

The first step in learning is making sure a child feels safe.

My child couldn’t learn when she was overwhelmed by trauma. Even on some good days she said she’d sit at her desk trying to do work and think about how much she missed me. She told me that even though she tried to keep them in, the tears would leak out.

Over time, with the support of our school psychologist and additional outside counseling to address the trauma, she thought less about the accident. Her world grew safer. Only then was she fully equipped for academic work.

Improving education and student success requires us to address the whole child, not just the part that fills in bubbles on a standardized test. Mental health support is a crucial component of that process at all levels. 

My daughter is not the only student who has tried to focus on schoolwork, trying to hold in tears while their mind struggles with trauma. But we can help them feel safe again. 

Money from the Jeffco Schools mill levy override will be used to increase mental health support to improve student safety and to help students feel safe. Please vote yes on Jeffco Schools 5A and 5B.