SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and Peoria Regional Office of Education today announced a new program to increase mental health supports for Illinois students.
The program, Resilience Education to Advance Community Healing (REACH), will train educators, school mental health professionals, and community members to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and address students’ social-emotional and mental health needs. CCR will work with 50 schools to assemble REACH teams that will engage in a trauma-responsive needs assessment and develop action plans to address the mental health needs of students and staff.
“Developing resilience in students takes a village,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “REACH teams bring everyone from the village to the table to provide truly wrap-around mental health supports for students. Many students and educators have struggled throughout COVID-19, feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and isolated. Our goal with this partnership is to prevent the ultimate tragedy of a member of our education community taking their life. We appreciate the expertise of Lurie Children’s Center for Childhood Resilience and the opportunity to build the capacity of our students and educators in the critical area of social-emotional wellness.”
COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of young people, according to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide already was a leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States, and the rates of suicidal thoughts have increased during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored that students, families, and communities across our state are exposed to toxic levels of stress and trauma,” said Dr. Colleen Cicchetti, executive director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s. “For some, this is a new situation and unfortunately for many, it is a chronic problem. Our communities, health professionals, and educators are investing in models that promote mental wellness for all and link students to supportive adults and services, as needed. Mental health and wellness are the foundation upon which learning, curiosity, and positive development rest. As educators are challenged to teach and connect with students in new ways, we must support these everyday heroes with the tools they need to help Illinois students continue to grow and flourish.”
The partnership will enable CCR to provide all Illinois educators with virtual training on the impact of trauma on children and adolescents, the intersection between race and trauma, crisis response strategies, and schoolwide trauma-responsive policies and classroom practices to build resilience among students. Critically, the virtual training provided by CCR will support educators’ own personal and professional well-being and self-care during COVID-19 and beyond. Educators have reported feeling greater levels of stress and burnout in 2020. The online trainings will be available to all Illinois educators beginning Dec. 4.
In addition to the universally available virtual trainings, 50 Comprehensive and Targeted schools that receive federal Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grants will have the opportunity to create REACH teams. Each team will include teachers, administrators, social workers, and 21st CCLC project personnel and parent mentors. CCR will support the REACH teams in developing and implementing data-driven strategic plans to support students' social-emotional learning and mental health.
The two-year partnership with Lurie Children’s is funded with $800,000 from Illinois’ federal 21st CCLC funding. Peoria Regional Office of Education will help administer the program and will identify additional needs and supports for participating schools.
“As the pandemic continues, federal data suggest that school counselors, psychologists, and social workers may confront overwhelming caseloads,” said Peoria Regional Superintendent Elizabeth Crider. “Our 21st CCLC are already providing social-emotional learning support, so they are well-positioned to serve as the hub to connect mental health programming dots. The REACH initiative can reduce risk and help our students and families grow stronger when facing difficult challenges.”
The REACH initiative builds on the state’s ongoing commitment to support mental health and social-emotional development and expands on resources already available, including:
- Safe2Help Illinois, a 24/7 tip line that gives students a safe and confidential way to share information that might help prevent suicides, bullying, school violence, or other threats to school safety.
- The Illinois Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (IL-AWARE) Grant that supports a $9 million, five-year initiative to develop a statewide model of mental health interventions and services across school-aged youth and family-serving systems.
- A total of $2 million in state appropriations across fiscal years 2020 and 2021 to fund $250,000 grants to eight under-resourced school districts in Evidence-Based Funding Tiers 1 and 2 to design and implement districtwide plans to provide greater access to mental health services.
- A three-year, $1 million federal Students, Teachers, Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence grant to provide Trauma-Informed/Youth Mental Health First Aid training to teachers, school administrators, counselors, local health departments, and community partners in 38 Regional Offices of Education and Intermediate Service Centers.
- Illinois Quality Afterschool, operated by American Institutes for Research, which provides Illinois’ 21st CCLC with professional development on topics including social-emotional learning and self-care.
ISBE maintains and continuously updates a mental health resource page with other 24/7 services for students and educators at www.isbe.net/mentalhealth.