Make student mental health a priority
Erie Times-News - 6/4/2018
The issue: Mental health highlighted again
Our view: Kids need help and support
General McLane schools Superintendent Rick Scaletta assessed the student behavioral crisis emerging in his district and credited the "perfect storm."
Abuse and neglect, the opioid crisis, toxic political discourse and addictive, isolating social media feeds coalesced in young psyches and flashed out in disruptive behavior, anxiety and depression. Scaletta was one of several area superintendents who in February described to reporter Valerie Myers an "explosion" of student mental health problems in schools.
Now come two more reports that should alert us all to local kids' pressing need for mental health care and support.
Erie Times-News reporter Matthew Rink recently profiled Uriah Sampson, a Titusville Area High School art teacher who has been nominated as one of 12 finalists for Pennsylvania's teacher of the year award. Sampson does cool things as a teacher. His students paint three-dimensional images on school ceiling tiles and design their own Vans sneakers. More extraordinary is the extent to which Sampson has thrown himself into the breach to protect children's minds from the hard contours of life in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Sampson learned the enduring consequences of childhood trauma when he and his wife adopted two children who had experienced neglect. Love alone, as he said, could not conquer the damage. He led efforts to train district personnel to recognize and support child trauma victims.
"It is difficult to see what kids are going through," he said. The Titusville student population includes impoverished, even homeless children.
Sampson's efforts in rural Titusville mirror work being done in Erie County's community schools. There, the United Way of Erie County concentrates funding on challenged schools where student needs, mental and physical, run high, all in hopes of disrupting the cycle of poverty.
Most recently, student mental health emerged as the focus of a conversation about school safety in the wake of mass school shootings nationwide. As reporter Ed Palattella detailed, Erie High School students and stakeholders stressed the need for more mental health awareness amid a statewide task force information-gathering session with state Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.
School leaders like Sampson and Scaletta and the United Way deserve credit for recognizing this problem and working hard to intervene and care for troubled children.
There is no simple remedy given the varied factors fueling this dilemma. But like any other human ailment, professional treatment is in order.
Rivera will carry back recommendations to Gov. Tom Wolf. And Palattella reported that GOP state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati has expressed support for directing school safety funding toward mental health services in schools.
A state budget that brings relief to the front lines of this struggle to improve kids' emotional well-being and our schools would be a good first step.