Spring Grove district tackles mental health challenges

Spring Grove Area Middle School hosted an adolescent mental health training for regional school resource officers on Friday, Feb. 1.

Spring Grove Area School District is the first district in the state to offer a specialized mental health training session for school resource officers, according to a school official. 

The district partnered with Northern York County Regional Police to host more than 30 officers from across the state and region for a 12-hour Adolescent Mental Health Training at the middle school on Friday, Feb. 1. 

Mark Allen, a Northern Regional officer assisting Dover Area School District, said the training focused on when to connect students to resources.

It also utilized the unique position of resource officers to be able to connect with students on a personal level, said Spring Grove Area SRO Keven Mengel.

"We have the kind of relationships with kids that sometimes the teachers and maybe a guidance counselor doesn't have," he said.

SROs, in talking to students each day, can acquire a greater knowledge of the student body, both inside and outside of school, because pupils trust them, said Karyn Brown, the district's director of pupil services and school safety and security coordinator.

More:School safety task force co-chair: York districts set bar for tackling mental health issues

More:Mayor: Mental health care could help combat violence in York City

What they're learning: The curriculum rolled out about a year ago — right before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, said instructor Edward Bova II, and was reviewed with input from students and facilitators for a revised edition launching in about three or four weeks.

It was developed by the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice and became more in demand as the Federal Commission on School Safety identified mental health as an issue that needs more attention, he said.

More:OPED: Pa. must make students' mental health a priority

Bova, of the National Association of School Resource Officers, based in Hoover, Alabama, said the organization was chosen to administer the training and tripled staff for the effort.

The course looks at adolescent brain development and uses the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to identify four categories of disorders common in kids, Bova said.

It helps officers to understand the difference between normal behavior and disorders based on intensity, frequency and longevity, he added.

During the training, officers also looked at techniques such as de-escalation — making sure needs are met from both sides of an altercation, acknowledging a student's frustration and letting that student offer an opinion of the situation.

They discussed eating lunch with kids, taking a walk with them or offering an outlet for expression such as a graffiti board, and Bova suggested following up after an escalated incident.

He also stressed the value of praise, saying, "You have kids who literally in their whole life, they don't have anyone...who ever says they're proud of them."

District action: Brown said the district is taking additional proactive measures to support mental health, such as adding a social worker to its team of school counselors and psychologists.

A number of district clubs support appreciation of differences — such as the Big Buddy club, which pairs students on the autistic spectrum with the general education population.

"That helps a lot with bullying," she said.

More:West York parents claim lack of response to bullying in district

More:West York school district responds to bullying claims

The district has a mental wellness council, which includes nurses, staff, administration, students, parents and board members who report on what's needed, including areas such as nutrition services and physical and health education.

The group often looks at current issues such as the opioid epidemic, asking how the district can support students with family members who are affected.

They are planning to start a mental wellness committee, hoping to bring ideas that came out of student feedback, such as a wellness suite where students can go when they're not feeling their best.

"It's a need," Brown said.