Teachers21 Hosts ‘Behavioral Health Emergencies’ Conference

April 04, 2019

More than 100 educators and thought leaders gathered on Friday, March 29, for a conference entitled "Behavioral Health Emergencies in the PreK-8 Classroom," hosted by Teachers 21 at William James College. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), up to 60 percent of students do not receive adequate mental health treatment and resources, despite studies showing the academic and social benefits of good mental health.

“I think schools are set up almost perfectly to teach reading…[but] if you compare that to mental health and behavior you can see the obvious gaps,” said keynote speaker Craig Murphy, LEP, NCSP, associate professor in the school psychology department at William James College. “We’ve never taken away recess from a kid because they can’t read fast enough. As long as they’re practicing and working hard, we know recess is going to be an important part of their day [so] why are we responding to mental health differently?”

Over 25 school districts from across the state attended the conference to discuss this question and explore data, resources, solutions and applications around social emotional and mental health issues. The meeting was team-based, focusing on the collaborative efforts to improve these issues. William James College President Nicholas Covino, said in his opening remarks, “I know a number of you are superintendents and principals who have come as a team because none of us can do this alone. We all have to find a way to change the culture and to change what we’re offering to young people.”

The conference also included a panel discussion featuring Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD, medical director at Riverside Community Care, William James alumna Ashley Dubé, PsyD, LEP, NCSP, director of counseling services for Dedham Public Schools, Nancy Rappaport, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist in Cambridge and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Adam Renda, CAGS, principal of Crocker Elementary School in Fitchburg.

The panelists discussed topics including safety assessment, the role of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stressors, the impact of implicit bias in the classroom, the role of school administrators compared to teachers, development of mental health programming and cultivating community mental health partnerships.

André Ravenelle, executive director of Teachers21, said during the event, “Our beliefs are that all students can learn, that all children can excel, and that what you have to do is figure out what are the things in their lives that are preventing them from moving forward at the pace that they know and we know that they can? Some of that is academic, but really the foundation of that is addressing their social emotional wellbeing.”