Empowering kids with the skills to solve problems, communicate, and manage their emotions in a healthy way improves their mental health the rest of their life. That’s central to the philosophy of the School-Based Prevention Services in the 50 schools, and 750 classrooms reached through a partnership between Jefferson Center for Mental Health and Jeffco, Gilpin and Clear Creek Public Schools since the program began.
Jefferson Center Prevention Services coordinator Sarah Hays says “Prevention is where it’s at…the younger, the better. In kid terms what that really means is we give kids the skills and the strategies they need as early as possible to live the good life… so they can make wise choices.”
Many of the students they see have all kinds of things going on in their lives, family, peers, school can be challenging. Some children have even experienced trauma. Prevention specialists use the evidence-based BrainWise curriculum to help give students a workable plan, she says, “for them to recognize within themselves when stress levels are going up, so they can use healthy coping mechanisms and bring themselves down their ’emotions elevator’ to where they are thinking clearly and can make wise decisions, not simply reactive ones.”
BrainWise uses charts, pictures, and fun visuals to teach kids not to react to situations with their fight-or-flight, survival instinct “lizard brains,” but to use their wise “wizard brains” to make good decisions. Students also learn to build their “constellations of support.” “We have problems that we cannot solve on our own and helping students to realize that we are all in this together and that they are all sometimes going to have problems that are too large for them to solve on their own and they need to get help.”
Sarah knows BrainWise is working when the teachers start picking up and naturally using BrainWise language during the school year, and even more when the kids share stories of how they were disruptive at the beginning of the school year, but now are able, on their own, to calm themselves and focus. A few have even told how they share with brothers, sisters and even their parents so their families can better manage their own emotions using BrainWise skills.
Bringing school-based services right into the schools is clearly the most effective way to reach the greatest number of students and families with effective mental health services beginning when the students start school. “In the schools, we can provide a safe place, [reducing the stigma] and part of that is by giving students the help they need, as clinicians are right there on-site.”
At additional schools, Prevention Services are provided to promote critical thinking, healthy communication and problem-solving skills. Prevention Specialists utilize education in the classroom to improve students’ self-esteem, teach emotional regulation techniques, and help children identify and appropriately express their feelings. This is achieved by using research-based curriculum, actively practicing the skills in role-plays as well as using discussion and problem-solving.