The Green River Regional Education Cooperative (GRREC), located in south central and central Kentucky, is one of eight educational cooperatives in Kentucky. In response to the mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, GRREC trained 689 people in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). These teachers, administrators, school nurses, food service personnel, custodians, and others represented 76 schools and central offices in 30 school districts.
YMHFA is a course that focuses on how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. GRREC identified the need for this training by surveying member districts on what they thought their social and emotional learning needs would be for the 2020–2021 school year.
Two school districts, in particular, excelled in this training: Allen County (23 trained) and Butler County (211 trained).
In Allen County…
Cyndi Mann, a 23-year math teacher, transitioned into the school counselor role at the beginning of the 2021–2022 school year. YMHFA has prompted her to assess each situation differently instead of as a one-size-fits-all approach. The training inspired her and her colleagues to research and learn more about their community resources and supports (strengths and gaps) to help students and families deal with a mental health crisis or illness. She acknowledges that being able to connect her students to these resources is an essential task. Mann also used some of the YMHFA content to update the required annual state professional development on suicide prevention.
In Butler County…
Administrators made training all staff in YMHFA a priority because each adult interacts with different children daily. Doing so equipped staff members with a common language and understanding so any staff can be a critical support to any student in need.
Holly Howard has witnessed a direct impact from participating in the YMHFA professional development series. Transitioning from a fifth-grade classroom after 13 years, she recently assumed the role of school counselor and uses the YMHFA training to guide daily practice. She has seen an intentional focus on meeting the social and emotional needs of students as well as their academic needs rather than putting “Band-Aids” on mental health needs as they arise. She has also used strategies such as keeping her voice at a normal level when dealing with student mental health issues, being proactive rather than reactive, using empathetic listening and silence (when possible), and having more compassion.