Social and Emotional Cures for the Disengaged

By Del Stover

If school boards want to meet the needs of all students who are emotionally and academically disengaged from school, it’s essential they focus some attention on students with mental health issues.   That’s the advice of mental health professionals now working in schools across the nation. They see a sizable population of students whose needs are not being addressed.

“Always, my worry in schools is for the kids who aren’t acting out, but who are suffering greatly and nobody knows it,” says Mary Walsh, executive director of City Connects, a Boston-based group that helps schools coordinate student support services and classroom interventions.

Any number of students can struggle silently with depression, anxiety, emotional disorders, or the psychological trauma of violence or abuse, mental health experts say. Their grades may suffer or their attention wander, but this disengagement from learning can go unnoticed and untreated because it does not disrupt the classroom.

Meanwhile, other students may run afoul of teachers and administrators -- or fellow students -- because of an undiagnosed behavioral disorder. Again, instead of receiving the help they need, these students can face punitive disciplinary policies -- leading them into more conflict, aggravating their anger or frustration, and ultimately driving them away from school.

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