Archives in January 2019

Increasing Access to Mental Health Services within the Jewish Day School Community

By Dr. Shellee Robbins, Director of Field Education, William James College (Newton, MA)
January 16, 2019

Girl looking at another group of girlsAs day schools confront the challenge of rising rates of mental health diagnoses among students, situations may arise in which students may require a range of mental health services that can be provided during the school day and within the educational setting. In fact, this in-school counseling approach may help to normalize the school setting and reduce anxiety or stigma.

While a licensed mental health provider may be budgeted and available to a school for eight to 10 hours each week, the inclusion of one to two graduate trainees can significantly increase the range and variety of mental health services available to students. Schools may therefore want to consider becoming a practicum site for graduate students from a local program in psychology. 

What does a program of this sort look like? Each year, graduate programs across the country partner with schools—including private secular and Jewish day schools—who welcome graduate students—in clinical, school and mental health counseling fields—into their communities. 

For the graduate students, school settings can be an optimal training location to provide clinical services, under supervision, and to receive substantial clinical experience. This type of training may occur in a school setting because many schools employ licensed mental health professionals who can guide and supervise the trainee.

Under the supervision of a school’s licensed mental health provider, students set learning goals and work to supplement the mental health services that are provided to the school community. Student contributions are guided by the supervisor, who determines how the trainee may best contribute and address the specific needs of the learning community.

The institution at which I am affiliated, William James College, is a school of psychology focused on educating specialists of many disciplines to meet the evolving mental health needs of society. Our three core values enlighten and organize our education process: Experiential Education, Social Responsibility and Personal Growth. We therefore recommend a year of school experience to every trainee as a way to meet our core value of social responsibility or, in Jewish parlance, tikkun olam.

From the perspective of a field education department chair, I would recommend that each Jewish day school community that has a licensed mental health professional available as a supervisor examine whether or not one or several graduate school trainees could enhance the mission of your school and increase the services provided to your community.

To learn more about the William James College program, or to contact the author, click here


Empowering Teachers to Support Student Wellness: The Torah U’Mesorah Mashgiach Training Program

By Rabbi Uri Feldman, Head of School, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael (Chestnut Hill, MA)
January 16, 2019

image of head with different colored areas of brainWithin any school setting, there are inevitably students who need the extraordinary: A helping hand or extra guidance beyond that provided by the classroom teacher.  Yet, sometimes it is not easy for teachers to recognize when a student needs additional support. To equip teachers to identify when students may be encountering social-emotional or learning challenges, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael High School in Chestnut Hill, MA, is participating in a newly-launched year-long Mashgiach training program offered through Torah U’Mesorah.  Our participation was made possible by a generous grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation and is managed by Gateways (through the B’Yadenu Initiative).

The program focuses on training a small number of a school’s faculty to identify the needs of students who may be experiencing academic, behavioral or social difficulties. Program topics include Anxiety Disorder in children and adolescents, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anger management and dealing with trauma. Though the program focuses on aiding those students who present with challenges, its goal is to promote a healthier school community for all students. To this end the course also covers technology awareness and techniques for promoting emotionally healthy students. At Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, we currently have one teacher participating in the program.

After completing the training, the faculty “Mashgiach” plays two important roles: The first is to serve as a resource for fellow faculty members. Teachers and administrators are able to discuss a variety of mental health issues they see students encountering at school and to work with the Mashgiach on strategies to meet these students’ needs. Second, the Mashgiach is a resource for students who consult with them and offers guidance and emotional support. Importantly, the Mashgiach is also empowered to refer students to a mental health professional, when appropriate.  

The Mashgiach training program is based out of New York, and Torah U’Mesorah has accommodated our school, as well as many others across the country, by live streaming the weekly sessions. Presenters have included Dr. David Pelcovitz, Rabbi Dr. Zev Brown, and Dr. Norman Blumenthal, among others.

Although we are only halfway through the training, our school has already begun to benefit from our participation. Our designated Mashgiach has ”turnkeyed” the training to the rest of the faculty. As a result, we have begun to develop a common understanding about emotional health issues and to learn how we can best support our students. We look forward to identifying students’ early trouble signs and teachers collaborating to find interventions.  Our ultimate goal is to meet every student’s needs and ensure that no student falls through the cracks.


Confronting Student Anxiety Head-On

By Jake Gallinger, Principal, Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto, Ontario
January 16, 2019

Anxiety ImageOn the third day of school this year, I walked a nervous and tearful Jr. Kindergarten boy into school. As I held the boy’s hand on the way to his classroom, I did everything I could to help him feel safe, loved and supported. At the door of his classroom, the boy looked up at me, wiped his last tear away, and said, “Thank you, Gallinger.” Although he had forgotten the “Mr.,” this moment truly made my day and reminded me why I am so fortunate to work in education.

The child in this story was experiencing separation anxiety, a common form of anxiety that we see at Bialik Hebrew Day School in Toronto, Ontario. Although separation anxiety is most prevalent among our Kindergarten students, students of all ages can experience these feelings, along with other types of anxiety. The difficulties of saying goodbye to a parent usually fade as our students feel increasingly comfortable and confident in their new classes; however, the day-to-day rigors of school life can still bring out a variety of worries. These may include anxiety, discomfort or nervousness involving homework or formal assessment, or apprehension surrounding recess, washrooms, social situations, friendship or other personal trepidations.

At Bialik, we recognize the prevalence of these anxieties, and our staff began the school year with a focus on better understanding and supporting the mental health and wellness of all our students. We invested significantly in a meaningful Professional Development (PD) Day with Lynn Lyons, an internationally acclaimed psychotherapist, author and speaker, who helps educators, children, and families manage anxiety disorders. 

Lyons treats anxiety using a skills-based approach that focuses on managing our relationship with worry. She encourages children and parents to focus more on understanding the process of their worry, rather than its content, and teaches that anxiety is a normal part of growing and learning. 

Our teachers and professionals have welcomed Lyons’s expertise, and at Bialik, we are now working on making a critical, school-wide shift in the way we approach our students’ relationship with anxiety and worry.

We have adopted her skills-based model, a positive approach that puts children in charge of how they choose to respond to worry, rather than seeking to avoid it. We have learned that encouraging children to avoid unpleasant and uncomfortable situations may temporarily alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, but the approach does not treat the anxiety itself or equip children with the skills required to persevere, demonstrate grit, overcome challenges and be successful in all aspects of life.

This learning process involves lots of love and encouragement from supportive adults. It also means allowing students to take risks, try things that may bring nervous feelings, and ultimately make mistakes. At Bialik, we encourage our students to bravely step into fearful situations and to adopt a courageous mindset when they engage in activities or situations that feel uncomfortable or uncertain. This approach promotes flexibility, the development of self-esteem and self-advocacy and teaches students to self-soothe and problem-solve.

Our school counsellor, Laura Mincer, utilizes Lyons’s model for tackling anxiety on a daily basis to support dozens of children. As Mincer explains, “We have seen, firsthand, how this model empowers our students. It teaches them to take control of the way they react and respond to worry, instead of allowing worry to be in charge of them. Our students are adapting the way they acknowledge, tackle and speak to their worries.”

To complement our teachers’ learning, we recently hosted a parent seminar, led by Ms. Lyons, that armed parents with strategies to manage anxiety and support learning at home. By inviting parents into our school to learn alongside our teachers, we provided our community with the opportunity to begin speaking the same language, using consistent vocabulary at school and at home. 

We are more confident than ever that our educational team, with support and commitment from our parent body, is equipped with the requisite skills and understanding to positively impact student mental health and wellness. And we believe that our focus on the whole child will continue to have a positive impact on student life, happiness and academic success. We look forward to continuing to build our school community’s knowledge and to keeping this important conversation going.


The Rising Student Mental Health Challenge: How Educators Can Respond

By David Farbman, Senior Director of Education
January 16, 2019

Outreached handA major study from Columbia University found that the incidence of depression grew significantly in the U.S. from 2005 to 2015. The rise was most rapid among those ages 12 to 17, increasing from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17 noted a 20 percent increase in anxiety diagnoses between 2007 and 2012. In attempting to determine a cause for this dramatic increase in children suffering mental health disorders, experts point to the role of social media, the pervasiveness of school shootings and other public episodes of violence and to pressures placed on children to meet high expectations.

As educators, we don’t need to see the national statistics to grasp the scope of the epidemic. Every day we see more and more of our children and teens coping with clinical depression and with an array of anxiety-based challenges—from ADHD to anorexia to panic disorders. Even beyond those with a specific identified problem, the prevalence of students manifesting unhealthy or anti-social behaviors may seem more pronounced than ever.

So, what are educators to do? At Gateways, we believe that two fundamental principles should guide what schools put in place to better support students’ social-emotional and mental health needs.

1. As much as possible, schools need to be proactive in identifying and addressing students’ challenges, rather than being forced into reacting to unacceptable behavior or crises. Being proactive means setting up clear, well-developed systems that can prevent problems before they arise and can focus educator and specialist interventions on managing any problems that do emerge. This approach is called a Multi-Tiered System of Support and is explained well in this video from Edutopia.

2. Schools can look to partner with others. Mental health challenges are complex and multi-causal. It is often too much for one set of individuals in a school to provide adequate support to students who are struggling to learn. Administrators, specialists and faculty should work with mental health providers, with other schools, with educational support organizations and, most importantly, with parents and families to get students the support they need.

Additionally, and most essential of all, and in some contrast to what I’ve described above, we can support our students by orienting our motivation toward healthy living and development, rather than focusing on “fixing problems.” Our goal is to help our children grow into productive and well-adjusted adults. As educators we can model what it means to “live as a mensch”—caring for those around us and aspiring always to be even better people in the process.

At Gateways, we are putting these principles into action by working with Boston-area schools to support their proactive efforts to foster a culture of caring and, when necessary, provide the direct interventions that will help students overcome psychological angst and enable them to thrive in educational settings. And we look forward to continuing to elevate schools’ capacity to enable the next generation of Jews to become strong and resilient.