Coalition: Now is the time for strong support for student mental health
As Birmingham slowly emerges from the shadows cast by the events of 2020, our community needs to be aware of what our young people – especially black and brown students in our most vulnerable neighborhoods – have gone through.
Many children have seen caregivers lose their jobs, their homes and, in some cases, their lives due to COVID. Many have watched the news of the horrific incidents of racial and political violence, such as the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And they endured it all largely in social isolation. As our schools prepare for the next school year, many students will return to school buildings for the first time in many months and carry these traumatic experiences with them.
It is this fundamental understanding that inspired the creation of the Birmingham Coalition for Student Mental Health. Formed in the fall of 2020, our grassroots coalition emerged in response to growing community concern about the general state of mental well-being of K-12 students and its impact on learning and results in the lives of students. The coalition currently represents a diverse group of 27 local organizations and includes students, parents and community advocates within its ranks. Together, we are working to rethink what mental health support might look like in our schools.
We started by collecting information. We interviewed over 800 community members and engaged 220 stakeholders in hour-long community conversations. We have compiled what we heard into a series of key findings and recommendations.
Last month we unveiled the results of our work: The Guide to Student Mental Health Policy.
The Playbook offers a comprehensive, community-driven game plan to dramatically expand how we can support the well-being of students and teachers in the classroom. With this guide, the Birmingham Coalition for Student Mental Health (BCSMH) is calling on our community to strengthen student and educator mental health supports in our schools.
Stakeholder Priority # 1: Increase the number of on-campus mental health professionals available to support students and educators. Across the country, education leaders and lawmakers are calling on districts to make significant investments in their school mental health workforce.
And for good reason. According to decades of research, schools that are increasing mental health staff are also seeing significant increases in student attendance, reductions in disciplinary incidents, higher graduation rates, higher academic results, and improvements in performance. school climate and culture.
As Birmingham schools begin the difficult work of transitioning to in-person learning and tackling COVID-related learning loss, it should be remembered that youth mental health issues existed long before the pandemic. To this end, the policies outlined in the Playbook represent more than a series of temporary recovery measures. Beyond a quick fix, our stakeholders understand that these policies are the essential building blocks for expanding and supporting the future success of the school and the lives of all students in Birmingham.
Now the real work begins – not just as a coalition, but as a community. With so much at stake, we must act with determination and urgency. In the coming weeks, the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) will determine how to allocate millions of dollars in federal relief for COVID K-12. As school leaders present their plans, BCSMH members encourage the board to prioritize mental health support for students, families and educators.
At this time of unprecedented need, we also have an unprecedented opportunity. Ensuring access to therapists, social workers, school psychologists and other licensed mental health personnel on site will help our young people to heal. These human interventions are part of what takes students from survival to prosperity, and we at the Birmingham Coalition for Student Mental Health cannot imagine a more worthwhile investment – in our children, in our city and in our. collective future.
Members of the Birmingham Coalition for Student Mental Health:
Mayor Randall Woodfin, City of Birmingham
Crystal Mullen-Johnson, Founder of Strive Counseling Services
Adrianne Marbury, BCS mother
Dr LaRhonda Magras, CEO of YWCA of Central Alabama
Mariohn Michel, Executive Director of Breakthrough Birmingham
Barbara Smith, President of the Norwood Neighborhood Association
Tamika Holmes, Executive Director of the Community Care Development Network
Dr Sherilyn Garner, Executive Director of A Friend of Mind
Chris Nanni, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham
Mashonda Taylor, Executive Director of the Woodlawn Foundation
David Liddell, Assistant Director of Education for the Woodlawn Foundation
Andrea Miller, Program Manager for AlaQuest Collaborative for Education
Raquel Patterson, Executive Director of Oak Tree Ministries
Dr. Vinetra King, registered clinical psychologist
Kierston Withrow, Mental Health Education Coordinator at Crisis Center, Inc.
Jennifer Hatchett, Executive Director of Youth Serve
Te’Andria Ellis, Executive Director of The Surge Project
Briana Morton, Executive Director of College Admissions Made Possible
Jessica Rodgers, Director of Program Operations at Girls Inc of Central Alabama
Pam Bates, Executive Director of East Lake Initiative
Rebekah Nordine, former educator
Collier Tynes, coalition member
Corinn O’Brien, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Birmingham Education Foundation
Maureen Moose, Research Specialist at Birmingham Education Foundation
Damon Bailey, Executive Director of Teach For America Alabama
Bryan Billy, Executive Director of the Alabama Youth Coalition for Equity
Leticia Watkins, Director of Children and Youth at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church
the Birmingham Coalition for Student Mental Health (BCSMH) is a collection of 27 local member organizations as well as a number of individual advocates. The BCSMH met to develop and pursue equitable, community-based policy proposals to address disparities in student mental health in Birmingham, Alabama.