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Schwinn: Mental health a top priority for Tennessee students
Daily Herald - 2/16/2020
Feb. 16--The mental health of Tennessee's students and a clear pathway for each pupil to seek help are the top priorities for the state's public schools, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said Friday.
Tennessee is one of the 10-lowest-performing states in the country when it comes to support for students after major depressive episodes, Schwinn told the Kiwanis Club of Columbia on Friday.
"The whole point of our system is to empower kids," she said. "We need to make sure that our students are on a path of success and that they can take care of themselves in the path that they choose."
After visiting 30 school districts across the state, and reviewing more than 25,000 comments from teachers last year, Schwinn said the need for students to have access to adequate care were educator's top concerns.
"It is the No. 1 piece of feedback we got from the state, regardless of the county, regardless of the grade level and regardless of the age of the educator, Schwinn said. "Teachers are telling us that everything is different than it was 20, 30 years ago. Kids have changed. We have teachers who are literally having to restrain our kids."
Episodes have been reported in students as young as 4 and 5 years old.
"The majority of our students don't have access to immediate or same-day care," Schwinn said.
A study published in 2018, indicates that 1 in 3 college students seek help with mental health issues. That is an increase from the 1 in 5 college students reported a decade earlier.
"We have had increased suicide rates in the state, we have had increased bullying and lack of access to immediate care," Schwinn said. "If we want to keep teachers in the classroom, then we have to give them support beyond academics."
She says the need for mental healthcare in the classroom is a major need to the state's youngest students.
Children from families ravaged by the nation's ongoing opioid epidemic are now enrolling in elementary school, Schwinn said.
"We are just hitting the front of it," Schwinn said. "If we can tackle it. If we can address those issues now, we can assure that they have access and they are getting the high quality education that we provide."
During his recent State of the State address Gov. Bill Lee proposed a $250 million endowment to help provide mental health services in K-12 public schools, working closely with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Lee's proposed budget plan promises to push more than $600 million in state funds toward education.
The endowment will be used to establish a trust fund that will provide about $7 million in annual reoccurring financial support to mental heath opportunities in the classroom and improve each child's cognitive, physical and social development.
Before implementing any programs, Schwinn said the Department of Education will conduct a thorough needs assessment to make sure each of the state's 137 school districts will have the individualized tools they need in place to provide mental health services to the state's more than 900,000 students.
Schwinn said some school districts, including Murfreesboro City Schools, are leading the state establishing community partnerships to provide care to students.
"The work that Dr. Linda Gilbert (Superintendent of Murfreesboro City Schools) has done has set a really great example in the greater area," Schwinn said. "We know we can bring health providers in to make sure students get what they need."
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