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Newark schools’ teacher institute puts focus on mental illness

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NEWARK –  As Julie Thomas listened to a presentation on mental health, she could think of students she works with that suffer from symptoms.

Thomas, a behavior specialist at Newark High School, knows her students encounter depression in some way or another.

“The children that I deal with if they’re not dealing with it themselves, their families are, and that just makes them act out a school and be identified the way they’re identified.”

But thanks to the presentation from Penny Sitler, the executive director of Mental Health America of Licking County, Thomas can now help students better deal with depression.

Sitler’s talk was just one of nine sessions on mental health during Newark City Schools’ inaugural two-day Summer Learning Institute. Nearly half of the district’s teachers and administrators are participating in the institute, which takes place Tuesday and Wednesday.

Maura Horgan, director of curriculum and staff development for Newark schools, said students do better academically when their social and emotional needs are met.

“We didn’t want to host a summer learning institute just focused on academics because it’s more than academics for the student to be successful,” she said.

Horgan said that almost every participant was taking at least one session on mental health topics such as coping, resiliency and trauma.

“Those are all the things our teachers know that they need to be more aware of to help our students,” she said.

Sitler said she does a few presentations a week to teach people to recognize signs of depression, such as loss of interest in favorite activities, mood swings, low self-esteem and more.

Sitler told teachers during her sessions if they see a difference in their students to talk to them because one factor that helps prevent teen and youth suicide is if they feel close to at least one adult.

Sitler said she would like everyone, not just teachers to take part in sessions about mental health.

“Everybody deals with people, everybody has a family, everybody has coworkers,” she said. “Everybody is somewhere where they run into people and if they have somebody that presents with mental health issues, they should know what to do.”

The institute, which was free to teachers, also featured sessions on improved teaching techniques and technology. Participants received a Chromebook laptop to help teachers use technology more in the classroom.

Horgan said the district decided to have the institute after seeing other districts do similar events and knew Newark had enough talented people within the district and community to provide one.

“It’s something nice for us to do the Newark way,” she said. “This way we can kind of customize it to meet the needs of our district.”

mdevito@gannett.com

740-328-8513

Twitter: @MariaDeVito13

Found in The Newark Advocate June 7, 2017