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5/25/2018

Alexa, How Do We Personalize Learning and Prepare Students for Jobs of the Future?

By: Stephanie Donofe Meeks

GettyImages-873289740-1.jpgWho remembers the original Star Trek television series from the 1960s, set in the 23rd century, when Scotty would talk to the computer? We all thought that was a long way off, but a few days ago I dashed out my front door and yelled, “Alexa, turn off the dining room lights!” Granted, Alexa is not setting a vector for warp speed travel, but that's still my voice activating a cyber response to a physical object. I can ask Alexa to order something from Amazon, tell me the weather in Myrtle Beach or to settle a debate with my husband about a Civil War fact. (He was right.)

Using an interface like Alexa is part of the cyber connection to our physical world often referred to as the Internet of Things. The concept is not new; however, it is now embedded in our everyday life rather than being a nebulous concept from Star Trek. If we think about it in terms of the Industrial Revolution, we are in the fourth iteration of the Industrial Revolution. This is where the cyber and the physical are more connected and work together.

We talk about preparing kids for an unknown future but isn't that what we've always done in schools? The difference is we now have a greater understanding about the future of jobs and growth industries. How do we get students ready, no matter what the future brings?

One way is to establish personalized learning environments and maximize learning for all students. It's not a defined, exact science so much as it is a collection of elements that define the learning environment. It is a child-centered approach using technology as an accelerator for learning. In schools doing this, you will see the following priorities and related actions displayed in this infographic:

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Click to enlarge and see other slides from the presentation that contains this infographic.


The Alliance for Excellent Education developed the Future Ready Framework for Personalized Learning. The Framework provides districts with a free resource to plan and support personalized learning environments. Going through the district assessment process allows for rich conversations about all the areas needed to personalize learning for students, not just about what device a district will purchase. If we believe that personalized learning can truly maximize learning for each child, our next step should be making this a reality. For more information, you can start here.

Let me leave you with this: If students can find answers by just asking Alexa, then how do we change the questions we want students to answer? Do we teach them what to think or how to think? Watch this video for more on the difference between knowledge and thinking. 

For tips on using Alexa in the classroom, click here!

Stephanie Donofe is director of integrated technology at the Ohio Department of Education, where she supports technology integration innovations and blended learning initiatives for districts and schools across the state. You can learn more about Stephanie by clicking here

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5/17/2018

Personalized Professional Pathway (P3)...A Modern Spin on Classic Work-Based Learning

By: Steve Gratz

GettyImages-534722625.jpg“Those Were the Days” was in heavy rotation on the school bus radio when I boarded during the 1969-1970 school year. I was in elementary school and my big brother, Kevin, was a senior. We went to Bluffton, a small school in northwest Ohio in Allen County. I remember that Kevin would leave school early to go to work at Lima Lumber as part of his DCT program – Diversified Cooperative Training. You see, Bluffton was a small agricultural community, and vocational agriculture, home economics and shop class were still a strong part of the curriculum. I don’t know when the DCT program started, but it was for students whose interests were outside of the vocational agriculture, home economics and shop classes.

DCT taught students job readiness skills in class and then all students were released early to go to their places of employment. My brother and his friends worked in various job sectors. While I don’t remember much about the program or when it ceased to exist, I do recall that my brother really enjoyed the class and the work experience at Lima Lumber.

I’ve shared this memory with Department staff on numerous occasions. In fact, the more I shared it, the more I thought, “Why not consider bringing this program back?” This past September in Cincinnati, we had a team attend the fall convening for our New Skills For Youth grant. During our “team time,” we dusted off the DCT program from years gone by, gave it a face lift, added a few new dimensions and started thinking through how we could roll it out for the 2018-2019 school year. Our creative staff came up with a modernized name to replace the DCT moniker – Personalized Professional Pathways or P3.

I sat down with staff and we started to flesh out the P3 program to ensure it would be successful. Parallel to the development of the P3 program, staff also were working on developing the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal, and it was a logical decision to blend the two together.

Similar to the DCT program, the P3 program will consist of a class on employability skills, with the foundation of the course aligning to the 15 professional skills that are part of the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. All students will be required to have work-based learning experiences. Ideally, the work-based learning experiences will be aligned to students’ career aspirations. Leveraging Ohio’s Credit Flexibility program, students’ work-based learning experiences will require training plans aligned to one of Ohio’s 39 career pathways. As a result of this alignment, students will earn career-technical education credits and possibly postsecondary credit.

Developing a traditional pathway program can be a little daunting as you consider which pathway will meet the needs of a majority of your students. Once the pathway is decided, you need to select a sequence of courses, determine classroom and laboratory space, purchase equipment and recruit enough students to make the program feasible. Many schools find this challenging due to the diverse interests of their students – especially smaller schools. Instead of choosing one or more pathways, the P3 program meets the needs of students’ various career interests and has very little startup costs.

Department staff are working with educators to develop a course outline for the P3 program that embeds the 15 professional skills on the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. This course outline will serve as the foundation of the in-school program. The essential part of the program hinges on student work-based learning. The P3 program requires the student, along with coaching from the instructor, to find employment in a sector aligned to his or her career aspirations. The instructor then works with the student and the employer to develop a training plan (resources can be found here) aligned to a career pathway course. This training plan ensures that the work-based learning experience is more than just a job – it is an authentic, work-based learning experience aligned to the content standards of the course.

A student enrolled in the P3 program will earn credit for the in-school class and credit for the work-based learning experience aligned to the student’s training plan. The employer ensures that the student is learning the technical content standards, so the student can earn course credit and be prepared to earn industry-recognized credentials aligned to the program. Students even have the ability to earn postsecondary credit through Ohio’s robust statewide articulation program (Tech Prep). The magic of the program is that it allows one teacher to help students earn credit in a variety of courses. Schools no longer have to choose which pathways they want to implement in their schools.

Staff still are finalizing plan details such as teacher qualifications, EMIS requirements and accountability aspects. I expect that to be available within the next few weeks. You can fill out this interest form to receive information about P3. Feel free to contact Cassie Palsgrove or Leah Amstutz should you have any questions on the P3 program.

And my brother, Kevin? He still works at Lima Lumber, but today, he owns the company!

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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5/10/2018

STAFF BLOG: Developing In-Demand Graduates Begins with Early Career Planning — Tisha Lewis, Career Connections Administrator

By: Staff Blogger

IDJW_logo.jpgIt’s graduation season and finding the answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is becoming critical for many students.

How exactly are schools preparing students to be ready for their first steps after graduating? Do students have the tools to move through the fog of decisions and challenges that await them after high school?

For me, these questions are more important now than at any other time in my adult life. My daughter is about to graduate high school, and I want her to be confident in her next steps!

If we expect our high school graduates to walk confidently across the stage at graduation, we need to prepare them in advance to make sound decisions about their futures. This preparation takes time and support from parents, teachers and community members. You can encourage students in your life to begin exploring careers and evaluating their talents well before graduation. OhioMeansJobs K-12 is a free, online resource that students can use to help them explore careers that match their interests and start conversations about their futures.

You also should know that this week is In-Demand Jobs Week. This is a celebration of jobs, industries and skills that are in-demand in Ohio. In-demand jobs pay well and have a high rate of growth projected for the future. Schools, colleges, universities, businesses and communities are working together to highlight and celebrate the many pathways to success our students can follow right here in Ohio. During this week, talk to your kids about the jobs and skills they think will be important to their futures. You can use OhioMeansJobs K-12 as a starting point.

Beyond just opening the discussion about in-demand careers, many schools are providing opportunities this week to help students understand how their interests and abilities can lead to careers. Students are exploring what careers are growing, identifying the problems they could help solve in their careers and learning how to prepare for those careers.

Schools are doing this through special events, but many also are making career planning a regular part of the school culture and academic programming. Check out these districts and schools around the state that are routinely incorporating career planning in their schools.

Our kids don’t need to have every decision made when they graduate, but they should be actively working toward long-term goals and know the next steps along their paths. They also should know what jobs will pay well and have openings when they graduate from high school or higher education.

I will be forever grateful to the school, community and business people that provided my daughter with the opportunities and experiences she needed to be able to make plans for her future. She will graduate confidently with a plan for her future in place. With tools like OhioMeansJobs K-12 and exciting events like In-Demand Jobs Week, other students in Ohio can have that same advantage.

Tisha Lewis is the administrator for the Department’s Career Connections office. Click here to contact Tisha.

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5/7/2018

Superintendent's Blog: Ohio Loves and Appreciates Teachers

By: Paolo DeMaria

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and we are excited to celebrate Ohio’s awesome teachers who go above and beyond each day for students and their families.

During my travels across the state, one of my greatest honors is to meet the many remarkable educators and see the exceptional ways they inspire and support students.

Teachers are engaged in creating our future. Each one of us has been shaped by the teachers we had – and the same will be true for the next generation. Ohio Department of Education staff members shared their memories of the teachers that shaped their lives. 

Later this week, the Department will share some special teacher shout-outs from students and recent graduates. We know you have a special story to share, too. We invite you to give a shout-out to a teacher – or a teacher team – who has impacted your life using #OhioLovesTeachers on Twitter and Instagram. We will share some of our favorites on the Department’s social media channels.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week from all of us at the Ohio Department of Education!

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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5/3/2018

GUEST BLOG: Apply. Enroll. Serve. LEAD. — U.S. Senator Rob Portman, Ohio

By: Guest Blogger

Apply Enroll Serve Lead Document

Click on image to download document

Do you know students who have a desire to be leaders? To serve? The United States service academies offer opportunities for students to receive a first-class college education and, upon graduation, commission as an officer in the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps or Navy.

As a U.S. senator, one of my greatest privileges is nominating young men and women from Ohio every year for entry into our nation’s military academies: West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy and the Naval Academy. This year, I had the pleasure of nominating Rico Felix from Columbus. He will be attending West Point this summer:

“For me, West Point is about joining something bigger than myself,” Rico said. “It is about becoming a part of a family that will always have my back no matter what. I wanted to go to West Point because I knew I wanted to serve my country, but also because I knew it was the only place that could turn me into one of the best leaders the world has ever seen.”

Every one of these institutions provides students with an unparalleled educational experience and an opportunity to lead other brave men and women in uniform. The best and the brightest students, from all walks of life, emerge from these schools as college graduates and United States military officers.

Historically, whatever the occasion, the United States has never had to look further than the Buckeye State to find leaders and patriots ready to answer our country’s calling.

From General Ulysses S. Grant to aviators and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong, and countless others, Ohio’s military heroes have led our country in battle and into space. Ohioans are unmatched in our dedication to service.

Any high school student who is inspired to attend a service academy and serve our country in this capacity should contact my academy coordinators, Michael Dustman and Suzanne Cox for more information. You also can visit my website to request an application. The application process opens March 1 of your junior year!

Our service academies are second to none as they groom young men and women of dedication and character to be our leaders of tomorrow. I wish all applicants the best of luck and look forward to nominating promising young Ohioans for admission into these distinguished institutions. 

Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio. You can learn more about him here.

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4/26/2018

Co-teaching...Two Teachers in One Class Equals Success!

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-638711984.jpgAs you walk down the hallway of a school and peek in and out of classrooms, you may see two teachers in a classroom instead of one. Often, the scenario is a general education teacher and special education teacher working together to teach all students in the classroom, including students with disabilities. These teachers work together, sharing their ideas and planning lessons. Both teachers support each other and work as a team. This type of teaching model is referred to as co-teaching. In a co-teaching classroom, there is a mutual respect and partnership between both teachers to present learning in diverse ways based on the needs of the students.

Co-teaching simply means two teachers working together to deliver instruction. However, there are different ways that two teachers work together to deliver instruction in a co-teaching classroom. One approach is called one teach, one observe. In this model, one teacher delivers instruction while the other observes student learning. The second teacher walks around the classroom checking to make sure the students understand the lesson. A second approach is called one teach, one assist. With this approach, one teacher takes the lead role and the other teacher rotates among students to provide support. This model allows one teacher to respond to individual students in a quicker manner. A third approach is parallel co-teaching. In this model, the two teachers divide the students in two groups and teach the same lesson. This allows for each teacher to have fewer students and focus on specific skills. In the fourth approach, station teaching, both teachers are actively involved in instruction as the students rotate from one station to the next, learning new materials. The fifth approach is alternative teaching, which allows one teacher to take a small group of students and provide instruction that is different than what the large group receives. The last approach is the complementary teaching model in which one teacher instructs the students while the other teacher offers an instructional strategy that supplements or complements the lesson. For example, the first teacher may model note taking on the board as the second teacher presents the lesson. If you do a Google search for co-teaching diagrams, you will find many images illustrating of the various co-teaching models.

There are many benefits for all students with using any of these models. Particularly, students with disabilities can access the general education curriculum and general education classroom setting. Students with disabilities benefit from being part of a classroom with high academic rigor with a teacher who understands the academic content and a special education teacher who can adjust the instruction. Lastly, students with disabilities may feel more connected with their classmates in the classroom and community.

Next time you walk down the hall of a school, take a peek in a classroom. You might be surprised what you see. Remember, two teachers may be better than one for all students.

Kim Monachino is director of the Office for Exceptional Children for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Kim by clicking here.

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4/18/2018

GUEST BLOG: Market Day...An Engaging Economics Lesson for Elementary Students — Kelly Miller, South-Western City Schools

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-871005836.jpgSometimes people who don’t work in schools find it surprising that students begin learning the basics of subjects like algebra, physics and even economics as early as elementary school. We expect teachers to cover these topics in high school and college, but elementary school teachers begin building this knowledge in their students much earlier. As a second grade teacher, I am always looking for ways to make learning fun and engaging. For example, teaching economics to second-graders certainly is not going to look like the stereotypical dry lecture you might imagine in a college setting. In fact, when it is time to teach the economics strand of the social studies standards to my second-graders, I get so excited about the project. Every year, my students love this lesson.

When I first started teaching economics, I stumbled upon a packet of teaching materials for second-graders. The packet basically covered important vocabulary words that are involved in understanding how money works. After looking it over and collaborating with my co-workers, we decided we had to make these concepts more interesting. This is how the “market day” project was born. To make the learning more meaningful, we created a unit where students build and participate in a marketplace. In this marketplace, students have an opportunity to design a product, create a business and sell their products to their classmates.  

We begin the first day of the project by having the students take notes in a packet to help them learn the key vocabulary. The next day, they start to put their learning in action. Students form groups of three. Each group is responsible for designing a product that meets certain criteria:

  • It has to be something that students can make at school. If students need materials not available in the classroom, they bring them from home.
  • Students are “paid” on production days with fake money. 
  • Students set prices for their products based on the demand (which was a vocabulary word they learned).

My fellow teachers and I also teach students about advertisements. Students create their own advertisements, which I videotape. After weeks of producing goods and advertising them to their classmates, market day arrives. Students eagerly set up their stores and begin shopping in their classmates’ stores. They spend only the money they earned on production days. By doing this, they learn how to make choices as consumers because they don’t have enough money to buy everyone’s products. Some of the items that students created were bookmarks, hair bows and — what every household needs — a box to hold straws. This year, one group even added a gimmick to make its bookmark store more appealing. The store offered customers the opportunity to lower a fishing pole into a pile of bookmarks and “fish” for bookmarks. This took real entrepreneurship and creativity because the group knew it was competing with another bookmark store.

The buying and selling happens in cycles so that only one of the business owners can go out and shop while the others stay back to sell their products and collect the money. We wrap up the unit by having the students add up their profits and reflect on their sales and what they might have done differently. For example: Was the pricing right? Did you create enough product or too much product?

Market day makes economics in elementary school so much fun. The students are always proud of their products, and they get hands-on experience with the decisions that all consumers and business owners make. It is a great way for my students to learn the concepts of economics through an authentic, highly engaging project. I can’t wait to teach this lesson again next year!

Kelly Miller is a second grade teacher at Monterey Elementary School in South-Western City Schools. You can contact Kelly by clicking here.

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4/12/2018

Bold Beginning! A New Online Resource for Building a Bright Start

By: Wendy Grove

GettyImages-133982134.jpgAs a parent of a young child, I often wondered whose advice I should listen to. There was certainly no shortage of advice. It seemed to come from everywhere — my mom, my friends, colleagues, the cashier at the grocery store. When you become a parent, people do seem to have a lot of wisdom to share. Given my experience in early childhood education, I could filter out the well-meaning, but outdated advice from the things I knew had some facts behind them. That does not mean, however, that I actually knew what to expect from an infant or toddler. You hear a lot of new parents joke that they wish their babies came with an instruction manual and it’s true. I used to wonder when my daughter would start walking or if there were signs that would tell me if something was not developing as expected. If I asked another person these questions, I would get lots of advice, reactions and sometimes unsolicited information. Internet searches also were available, but how could I know which sites were truly reliable? Anyone who has searched for a medical symptom online knows that search engines often diagnose a case of sniffles as a rare, deadly disease. So, where exactly can parents turn to for solid advice?

The state of Ohio just released a new resource that I wish would have been there for me when my children were small. It is called Bold Beginning! The goal of Bold Beginning! is to give Ohio’s youngest citizens a great start in life by making information and resources accessible to their caregivers. Getting early access to learning and basic needs is critical. Before we are even born, our brains begin to develop. As infants and young children, the experiences we have shape how our brains will continue to develop. This lays the foundation for all learning that takes place for the rest of our lives. The period between birth and kindergarten is the most rapid phase of development that we will experience in the span of our lives. This is the time when a child learns how to walk, talk, follow rules for safety and hygiene, develop significant relationships with trusted adults and make friends beyond their families. Everything that happens in this period of enormous learning and development has the potential to impact how that child grows, learns and experiences the world during his or her years in school.

Bold Beginning! is a reliable, online resource to learn about everything from healthy pregnancies to child development through the third grade. If parents have concerns about their children’s development or meeting their basic needs, it is a one-stop shop for resources to food, housing, education and child care. There is even legal help and links to family fun. You can enter the site as a parent or caretaker and go right to a page with specific information based on the age of your child. The Family and Community page links to all the resources available throughout the state to help families meet their basic heath, emotional, educational and employment needs.

Finally! A single site with information and resources that families can depend on. It’s not quite an instruction manual, but this is definitely something parents and others who help children and families will want to check out so Ohio’s children can have a bold beginning for a bright future.

Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.

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4/5/2018

STAFF BLOG: Family and Community Engagement is Something Good Schools Do — Tom Capretta, Family and Children Community Coordinator

By: Staff Blogger

GettyImages-607460110.jpgTracy Hill is the executive director of the Office of Family and Community Engagement at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and one of the 2014 Education Week Leaders to Learn From. The first time I heard her say, “Family and community engagement is something that good schools do,” it just clicked. She made the point simply and powerfully. Family engagement and community engagement are not separate from the everyday work of schools and districts. They are, in fact, critical to the success of that work. Research even shows that effective family and community engagement can result in better grades, test scores, attendance and enrollment in more challenging courses.

Because engagement with families and communities is so critical to school success, it is a part of any quality effort to improve schools. For example, when a district carries out the Ohio Improvement Process, the district must work with families and communities to collect data, determine needs, develop an improvement plan, work the plan and evaluate the plan. As the district does this work, it develops mutual relationships with families and community members. This allows everyone to recognize their roles in improving students’ education.

At a webinar I attended in August 2017, Ron Mirr, president of the Center for Active Family Engagement (CAFÉ), shared this process in simpler terms. Below are the five steps he outlined for meaningful and organized engagement:

  1. Commit: To get buy-in from the community and families, districts and schools must clearly define family and community engagement. Districts should develop policies that create a clear direction for engagement. Districts and organizations in the community must develop and subscribe to shared beliefs about family and community engagement.
  2. Assess: Districts and schools must assess the environment they operate in. To do this, they should survey stakeholders, review what they are already doing and identify opportunities for growth.
  3. Plan: Districts and schools should develop a team of parents, caretakers, students and community members. Writing a plan that includes all parties establishes a foundation of mutual trust. To be successful, schools and districts also must provide training to staff about how to engage families and the community.
  4. Implement: Districts and schools must move beyond traditional professional development and provide coaching. Their plans must include processes for checking progress and provide the necessary resources for success.
  5. Sustain: Engagement is not a one-time event. School and district teams must routinely review data and, if needed, adjust what they are doing. They should openly create and share the next steps in the process with their stakeholders.  

These steps align to the Ohio Improvement Process. They also are accessible to parents and community members. Intentionally engaging families and communities establishes trust. Trust leads to meaningful collaboration and support in other areas.

The draft of EachChild=OurFuture, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education, includes Eight Guiding Principles that recognize the importance of family and community engagement. The goal of the strategic plan is to help each child become successful with the guidance and support of caring, empowered adults. The plan itself is the product of engagement with more than 150 preK-12 educators, higher education representatives, parents and caregivers, employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations. In fact, the draft is still being discussed at public regional meetings around Ohio. You can read more about EachChild=OurFuture and comment on the draft here.

Ohio and the nation are realizing the importance of family and community engagement. It is the perfect time for our state to be the meeting place for the 2018 National Family and Community Engagement Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership, will be in Cleveland July 11-13. More than 1,300 people are expected to attend, and there will be more than 75 workshops. This is an excellent opportunity to see how schools and communities around the country are realizing mutual goals and making the most of family-school-community partnerships. Participants will leave the conference with strategies, tips and tools they can immediately apply to their work. To learn more, please visit the conference website or contact me directly.

Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.

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3/29/2018

GUEST BLOG: Mental Health First Aid...Indian Lake’s Response to a Community Crisis — Robert Underwood, Indian Lake Local School District

By: Guest Blogger

GettyImages-177761232.jpgI’m going to be open and honest here. The staff and students of Indian Lake Local Schools have experienced the suicides of two high school students in the past five years. I was serving as the high school principal during these tragedies, and it was, without a doubt, the most challenging time of my professional career. Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. Reactions were painful and raw. Our young people and experienced educators were grief-stricken and asked, “What signs did we miss?” and “How can we prevent this going forward?” Making matters worse, there was an overall increase of suicides in our community during this time. These events emphasized the critical need for emotional support in our schools.

Although traditional first-aid training is not yet mandatory for all educators in Ohio, I would venture to say that most teachers and school staff have taken at least one first-aid course at some point in their lives. When you are responsible for the care of others, it makes perfect sense to be knowledgeable about lifesaving techniques should a medical emergency arise. First aid gives individuals the skills to provide basic medical treatment, often saving the person’s life, until a professional can take over.   

After the tragedies that Indian Lake School District witnessed in the school and the community, we decided to apply first-aid principles to our own mental health. As adults, we often focus on our physical well-being. We regularly go to checkups to ensure we are healthy. We model this behavior for students. We encourage them to eat right and exercise frequently. However, it is still common to neglect and even be afraid to address our own mental health. It is even more difficult to confront others — like the young people in our care — about their mental well-being. We often do not have the skills or confidence to address these issues. However, the data clearly indicates that youth need mental health support. One in six students experience mental illness, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds. Locally, our school counselors also report an increase of students who need mental health services. Counselor responsibilities continue to expand, making it nearly impossible for them to adequately support all the students’ needs. At Indian Lake, we decided to address this problem as an entire staff.

I transitioned to the superintendent’s position in the summer of 2017 and began serving on a committee where I met Steve Terrill. Steve is a mental health advocate, community activist and a member of the Mental Health Drug & Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties. He introduced the Mental Health First Aid program to me. With support of the board of education and the administrative team, we quickly began planning a training event that included every district employee. Bus drivers, food service staff, teachers and office staff — everyone attended.

The training is much like medical first aid. Participants learn to provide lifesaving assistance until appropriate professional resources are available. However, instead of providing medical attention, Mental Health First Aid assists someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. During the eight-hour course, trainees determine how to apply the five-step action plan in a variety of situations. The situations could be helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal or assisting an individual who has overdosed. An important component of the Mental Health First Aid course is the opportunity to practice the intervention strategy rather than just learning about it. Role-playing makes it easier to apply the knowledge to a real-life situation. The training builds an understanding of mental health and helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

Certified instructors teach the nationally-accredited Mental Health First Aid program. The training occurs in either two four-hour sessions or one eight-hour session. There is a maximum of 35 people in each session. At Indian Lake Schools, we trained more than 230 staff and community members during a professional development day. Our philosophy is that all staff members should work together to improve the student experience. We believe that recognizing the signs of mental distress is vital to a safe school environment. It was imperative that EVERY staff member participate in the training. In return, staff received continuing education units and a three-year credential that is valuable on any resume.

The most difficult part of organizing the training was finding enough instructors to serve our entire staff on the same day. I contacted Kathy Oberlin, director of the Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success, and she provided trainers and workbooks free of charge through a grant called Making Ohio Aware: Building Statewide Mental Health First Aid Capacity. Even with the support of the network, we were still short on trainers. We turned to The Ohio State University Extension in Hardin County for assistance. Many extension agencies across the state have certified instructors on staff. In most cases, extension agencies charge a modest fee to cover their mileage and the workbook fees. The workbooks typically cost $20 each.

The training was well-received by our staff, although I will admit that the morning doughnuts and free lunch probably helped to sweeten the deal! We also opened our training up to the community. There were 20 extra people in attendance, including an Indian Lake Board of Education member, educators from other districts, a Logan County commissioner, and State Board of Education Member Linda Haycock. We have plans to coordinate additional community events in the future, and the next phase is to provide training to students.

Mental Health First Aid credentialing is only available to people ages 18 and older. Karey Thompson from the Suicide Prevention Coalition will help us provide Mental Health Gatekeeper Training to our middle school and high school students in April. Gatekeeper training lasts approximately 90 minutes. It teaches students to recognize their own mental health struggles and to understand warning signs in their friends. The main idea is to “Acknowledge, Care, Tell” or to “ACT.”

Focusing on mental health has helped to develop a shared sense of caring in our school district and in the community. Additionally, it has answered many of the questions our staff members faced after experiencing the heartache of student suicides. Finally, parents and community members know that we are doing everything we can to protect the overall health our most valuable assets — our students. I am truly thankful to all the agencies and volunteers that came together to make this training happen. The response has been extremely positive, and I am confident that our district is well equipped to support student mental health, although there is still much work to do.

If you are considering an event in your district or community, feel free to contact me by email or at (937) 686-8601. You can contact Steve Terrill by email, at (919) 623-0952 or on Facebook. Kathy Oberlin also is an excellent resource. I would encourage you to get to know the behavioral health authority in your county. You can find a directory here.

Robert Underwood served as a teacher, principal and coach before becoming the superintendent of Indian Lake Local Schools. To contact Superintendent Underwood, click here.

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