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Local,  State

Florida Public Schools Implement Mental Health Initiatives, Affecting Alachua County

The Florida Department of Education’s initiative to create mandatory mental health curriculum in public schools began this school year, including in Alachua County.

The Florida Board of Education announced over the summer that each school district will be required to provide a minimum of five hours of instruction to middle school and high school students.

According to FDOE, these classes must include “[information on] signs and symptoms, the process of seeking help for themselves or others, awareness of resources (National Suicide Prevention Hotline), and what to do or say to peers with mental health disorders.”

The new requirement aims to create a more open discussion on mental health amongst young adolescents. 

While the state requirement only requires instruction for grades 6-12, Alachua County Public Schools have taken it a step further by providing elementary students with some instruction through different presentations from non-profit organizations.

One specific program that was presented to elementary schools was the “Start With Hello” program.

This presentation provided by the non-profit Sandy Hook Promise focused on social isolation in elementary schools with hopes to build a safe environment for students that boasts anti-bullying and mental health discussions. 

The Sandy Hook Promise is set to host presentations in every middle school and high school, district wide, during the first two weeks of October.

Aside from these presentations, Alachua County Public Schools is using the TeenMentalHealth curriculum to form the basis of what this mental health instruction will look like throughout the year for high schools.

Middle schools will be using the program Everfi where they will be completing modules or lessons on mental health topics. 

Both the high school and middle school curriculums will be supplemented with other outside presentations from non-profit organizations.

Aside from the Sandy Hook Promise, organizations such as the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the UF PALS (Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support) program, and the Hanley Foundation will be coming to the schools.

NAMI will be hosting a presentation called “Ending the Silence” that aims to inform the audience on the warning signs of mental health conditions, and what can be done about it.

The UF PALS Program will be focusing on peer support and includes presentations on anti-bullying.

The Hanley Foundation will be focusing its presentations on substance abuse. 

Jackie Johnson, Alachua County Public Schools spokeswoman, said the county has had a system of care for years that has been implemented district wide. It involves teachers and schools referring students to the system of care, which works with non-profit organizations as well as the parents to address the student’s issues. 

The new mandatory mental health curriculum will serve as a reinforcement for the county’s public schools’ long-standing mental health programs. Students district-wide will be able to openly discuss mental health both in the classroom and outside in the community with the many partners the district works with. 

Johnson said she believes the curriculum is going to formalize the programs that Alachua County already has and enhance consistency across the district. The objective is that every single student will receive the same information while also reinforcing the relationships between the mental health partners in the community and the students in the district.

Featured photo: Elementary school classroom. Unmodified photo by Flickr user LizMarie_AK used under a Creative Commons license https://bit.ly/1ryPA8o.

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