Michigan Schools Mental Health Program Set to Expand with $50 Million Increase

  • Michigan Program That Helps Students Manage Their Emotions Gets $50 Million Boost
  • Funding comes as students need more help coping with isolation and other mental health issues
  • It is part of several legislative initiatives aimed at helping students thrive after the pandemic

The last time administrator Kristina Hansen intervened in a school fight, she didn’t have to say much.

One of the students already knew what he should have done differently.

“It would have been the perfect time to practice my breathing, but I didn’t,” the student told him after a brief tussle match with another boy in the cafeteria at Bark River-Harris High School in the Upper Peninsula. “I blew my lid.”


He had forgotten to use the tools he had learned in TRAILS, a program his school adopted last year to help students manage their emotions and make good decisions. With more exposure to the program and more practice using his techniques, he’ll be able to calm down before his behavior escalates, said Hansen, who was hired last year as the district’s student success coordinator. Bark River-Harris School. She runs programs to support students academically and behaviorally, including TRAILS, which means turning research into action to improve student lives.

Developed a decade ago at the University of Michigan, the program is now in about 700 schools and could soon be many more thanks to a nearly tenfold increase in state funding.

The Public Schools Aid Budget signed into law last month provides $50 million in funding over the next four years. That’s a big jump from last year’s overlapping state appropriation of $5.4 million over three years.

“The beautiful thing about the budgets over the past two years is that the state has recognized that not only are children’s mental health issues running deep in the state, in the country, but that the legislature must be part of the solution. “said State Superintendent Michael Rice.

The additional funding comes as schools struggle to find enough resources to help students recover from grief, loss, social isolation, trauma and others effects of the pandemic on mental health. Principals across the country are reporting more classroom disruptions, fights between students and physical attacks which they attribute to the lingering effects of the pandemic. Misbehavior was a defining characteristic it has complicated efforts to get the children back on the right academic path after two years of disjointed learning.

The boost for TRAILS is just one way the state legislature is trying to address the problem in Michigan. The 2022-23 budget also creates a new $150 million program for mental health grants and provides $25 million for school-based health centers, up from $11 million last year. Many school districts are also tap into federal COVID relief funds to offer mental health programs to their students.

Elizabeth Koschmann, founder and executive director of TRAILS, said the new funding will make a big difference in the number of students the program reaches over the next four years.

She could not provide a total operating budget because TRAILS is funded on a project-by-project basis from many sources, including federal grants, private donations, and Medicaid reimbursements for its work in high-poverty areas.

TRAILS provides resources, training and guidance to school staff at all levels, from support staff to administrators. In some schools, only one or two teachers have taken the training, but the program works best when everyone participates.

“What’s important is that we don’t delegate mental health to one person or a few people in a school,” Rice said.

At Bark River-Harris, every staff member and all 725 students in the district were exposed to the program first levelwhich offers 15 hours of lessons that teachers can teach their classes to introduce them to mindfulness and self-care practices.

Other levels of the TRAILS program provide training in suicide risk management and facilitate small group sessions for students who need additional support.

Hansen said all of his teachers find ways to dedicate time to the TRAILS program, even if it takes academics time. This is also true in other neighborhoods.

“We don’t hear (from teachers) that it interferes with the delivery of academic content, because they need that content as well,” Koschmann said. “They say their children, at almost every level, are one to two years behind socially and developmentally than they should be. … They say they need an anchor program to build core skills.

Nationally, spending on these social and emotional learning programs increased by almost 50% between 2019 and 2021, according to a report.

While teachers are on board, some parents are skeptical of TRAILS’ emphasis on social and emotional learning, Koschmann said. Some preservatives say they believe SEL programs indoctrinate children with liberal ideas about gender identity and the lingering effects of slavery on modern institutions, none of which are part of TRAILS or other programs. Others say schools should focus on academics, not social and emotional learningwhich they believe to be the work of the parents.

“They don’t want a teacher teaching a child values ​​because it’s a personal family decision and they want to have control over it,” Koschmann said of the criticism. “We don’t want to teach your child values ​​either. We want to equip your child with the tools that will help them deal with really difficult emotions like disappointment, rejection, anxiety, worry, sadness and fear so they can engage more fully in their classroom. and become better citizens in terms of management. feeling dysregulated, upset or worried.

None of this is political, she says.

“If a child presents with a behavioral difficulty in a classroom but really wants to behave in a compliant manner, our program provides them with tools to help them manage their behavior more effectively,” Koschmann said.

That’s what Hansen saw happen in the Bark River-Harris cafeteria when the student realized he could have used a breathing technique to calm himself down.

“You could almost see the light bulb go out,” recalls Hansen.

Another student had a different kind of breakthrough which Hansen also attributes to TRAILS. A withdrawn high school student who wasn’t participating in class or socializing with friends suddenly became more engaged for three quarters of the school year. He told her that listening to his classmates talk during TRAILS class, he realized he wasn’t the only one struggling with anxiety.

“Here is a child who was floating under the radar, and just by making it a more acceptable practice to talk about feelings and struggles, he was able to feel a greater sense of belonging which allowed him to participate more. , said Hansen.

Hansen said a common lexicon is essential to the success of the program at Bark River-Harris. Everyone in the neighborhood speaks the same language and knows the same behavioral strategies.

When a child closes his eyes for a few moments in class, the other students understand that he is trying to calm his anxiety by using a visualization tool, deep breathing, or another TRAILS strategy, Hansen said. If a food service worker asks a student in distress to name and rate the intensity of the emotion he is feeling, he knows how to do it because he has practiced using a feelings thermometershe says.

Koschmann wants every school to be like this and says the additional state funding will help a lot. His team is still discussing the best ways to use it.

“We’re going to have to be really smart to make sure we can adequately staff our team to deliver top-notch services, but let’s not prepare for a fiscal cliff at the end of the funding period,” he said. she declared. “We can’t just hire, hire, hire and have no long-term plan.”

Yet, she says, there is an urgent need to train more teachers quickly.

“Schools need support immediately,” she said. “They can’t wait. The demand for mental health services for students, training for staff, materials for staff and consultations is incredible. »

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Join her at [email protected].


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