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Future teachers equipped for mental health response

October 29, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. – Future teachers from Indiana University Kokomo are uniquely prepared for the challenges their students may face, with a mental health first aid certification offered by the School of Education.

The training includes learning risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies to help youth in crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.

McCall Aulbach, who is completing the Transition to Teaching program, understands the advantage of earning the certification.

“It’s very beneficial for any teacher, whether you are in your first or 20th year of teaching,” said Aulbach, who teaches Spanish at Central Middle School in Kokomo. “There are situations that come up that you have to learn on the fly. This is something you want to make sure you are well-informed and ready to handle those challenges that arise for our kids.”

She added that California now requires school personnel to have this certification, and other states are considering it.

“We’re ahead of the curve in this regard,” she said.

The training is a crucial tool for future teachers, which is why all student teachers will earn the certification as part of their curriculum, according to School of Education Dean Leah Nellis.

Statistics recently provided by the Indiana Youth Institute show that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and the fourth-leading cause among children 5 to 14.

“Teachers are on the front line, they see kids all day, every day,” Nellis said. “If they can be the eyes that sport early concerns and get a kid connected with support, all the better.”

Many children come from situations that are challenging and traumatic, and they carry the effects to school. The goal is not for teachers to be therapists, but first responders.

“Mental health first aid is one piece of the puzzle of helping teachers identify or spot those kinds of challenges and intervene in relatively simple ways, that can sometimes can get a kid back to being able to learn and interact,” Nellis said. “Sometimes, more significantly, it allows the teacher to intervene and connect a student with other services as needed.”

Nellis does not know of any other School of Education in the state that requires it.

Krista Bailey, who is student teaching in Noblesville, appreciated the chance to role play and practice starting a conversation with a student if she has concerns, equipping her in case she has to use those skills someday.

“We went through scenarios to feel like we were actually talking to a student and trying to help them,” she said. “Just being aware of the signs and symptoms, and how to respond to those appropriately, will help me be a better teacher. I will know how to direct them in the right way, and what to say and not to say.”

That kind of preparation is critical, Nellis added.

“Often, people know they should do something, but they don’t know what, so they do nothing,” she said. “When you’ve had some practice, and you’ve learned what to do, it empowers you to take action.”

The School of Education will offer youth mental health first aid training open to anyone who works with children and youth, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, November 8, or Friday, February 21. Cost is $100, and those who complete will receive a three-year certification. Registration is required, at http://bit.ly/36deFiy. The sessions are led by Audra Dowling, dean of students, and Beth Barnett, director of counseling and psychological services. Both are certified trainers for mental health first aid for adults and youth. 

For more information contact Nellis at 765-455-9287 or lmnellis@iu.edu

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

Last updated: 10/29/2019