From the beginning, the Prevention group had identified schools as a key player in supporting child mental health. After conducting a survey with school personnel in Summer 2012 asking about current social-emotional learning efforts and what more the schools would like to do, the group learned that schools—bound by academic standards, limited staff and funding—would like to increase time spent on social-emotional learning but are stretched too thin.
At the 2012 ‘Mental Health is Everyone’ Summit, the Prevention Group posed a question: where and how can Rice County support the whole child? Moreover, how can Rice County support the learning of these skills in a way that does not put all the onus on the schools? What are the other environments, organizations or groups that can be engaged in the effort to teach and re-enforce social / emotional skills?
The conversation around improving and increasing social-emotional learning opportunities for Rice County students was focused not just on deficit or harm reduction (i.e.- reducing the incidence of bullying, violence or substance abuse) but also teaching a skill set that will help students to succeed both in school and in life. This skill set includes skills like respect and empathy and when students are better able to manage and communicate their emotions, they are able to focus more in school and succeed academically.
Work groups at the 2012 Summit communicated that effectively improving social-emotional learning for Rice County children needs to take a broad approach, involving families and parents.
How the Prevention Team Operates
The prevention team’s focus on the school-age population requires different approaches in our two largest communities.
In Faribault, we are working to increase community awareness, understanding, and valuing of social emotional skill building in children and youth. This work involves interviewing community organizations about the social emotional skills they see as important for success and asking about which skills organizations are currently teaching to children and youth. In addition, we are working on building a community-wide awareness campaign about the importance of teaching social emotional skills.
In Northfield, we are working directly with Northfield Promise – a collective impact initiative striving to help all Northfield children thrive, from cradle to career. Our work is helping to guide two of the benchmarks in the Northfield Promise continuum – ensuring that all children exhibit social, emotional, and physical health during the elementary and high school years. An action team for the elementary benchmark was launched in January of 2015. If you’d like to get involved, contact Janet Lewis Muth or Zach Pruitt.