SPRINGFIELD – The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has highlighted Illinois as a national leader in advancing students’ mental health using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds set aside for state use. The national education organization featured the Resilience Education to Advance Community Healing (REACH) Statewide Initiative, which is a collaboration between the Illinois State Board of Education and the Center for Childhood Resilience at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and other key partners, at its legislative conference in Washington, D.C., on March 21. The annual conference convenes state education agency leaders from all 50 states and additional U.S. territories to highlight best practices.
State Superintendent Dr. Tony Sanders led a panel discussion, Spotlight on Illinois: Supporting Student Wellbeing, as part of a special in-person and livestreamed event that highlighted the impact of state recovery investments. Dr. Mashana Smith, a psychologist who is the REACH project director, and Amy Blomberg, principal of Broadmeadow Elementary in Rantoul, joined Dr. Sanders on the panel. Broadmeadow is one of 464 schools that have enrolled in the REACH Statewide Initiative to date.
“Mental health and social-emotional learning are not separate from academics; they are the foundation of academic success,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders. “Access to mental health supports and schools that understand and know how to address the trauma in so many of our students’ lives will help us strengthen student attendance and students’ engagement in school. This is what our students and teachers have been asking for. The pandemic heightened the need for mental health supports, and the REACH Statewide Initiative -- as well as our regional SEL Hubs and Community Partnership Grants -- provides schools with the tools they need to foster a supportive environment for both students and staff.”
“State leaders have allocated more than $1 billion in COVID-19 relief funds to student and staff mental health and well-being, a clear indicator of how important this work is to students’ overall recovery from the pandemic,” said Dr. Carissa Moffat Miller, chief executive officer of CCSSO. “We are honored to highlight Illinois’ innovative work in this area and share these important partnerships with state members and others in education.”
"A school's culture, policies, and practices have a tremendous impact on both student and staff mental health and well-being,” said Dr. Mashana Smith, REACH project director. “REACH collaborates with schools to design and implement wellness and trauma-responsive action plans, often building on a school’s existing work to help students and staff thrive."
"Our students had been exposed to trauma long before COVID. We were already talking about how to make our school more trauma-informed, but during and after the pandemic our students and staff were experiencing more signs of trauma than ever before. We had to do something different and had no time to waste," said Amy Blomberg, principal of Broadmeadow Elementary School. "REACH has given us a tool that quantifies what students are going through and provides the structure and resources to put our ideas into a sustainable action plan. Our team is now part of a community of learners who support us in helping our students and staff succeed."
Only about half of the 7.7 million youth who have mental health issues receive the help they need, according to researchers from the University of Michigan. The REACH Statewide Initiative builds schools’ capacity to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma. Participating schools receive hands-on tools to engage in reflection, planning, and implementation of trauma-informed policies and practices that build resiliency and overall wellness among their students, staff, and school communities. Participation is open to all K-12 schools in Illinois with support from Illinois’s Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Hubs.
The SEL Hubs, which are trained in the REACH model, also offer professional development on a range of topics relevant to the needs of their regions. These efforts are supplemented by $86 million in Community Partnership Grants that support schools in working with assets in their communities to meet students’ mental health needs in and out of school.
ISBE invested $11.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to establish the statewide REACH initiative, which was announced in April 2022.