This is the first in a three-part series about the relationship between education and mental health.
This is an excerpt from the article about McLean School's Mindfulness Program. Click here for the entire article.
Michael Rosenblum, a fourth-grade teacher at the private McLean School in Potomac, Maryland, has seen the success of this approach in action. The school is in part targeted to students who have learning differences including ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety, which can make just getting through the school day difficult. Although the school does not use the same mental-health consultation program that Connecticut has adopted, through working closely with on-site mental-health professionals, teachers are able to help their students reach their greatest potential.
“We’ve had students that come to McLean in third, fourth, fifth grade that basically have been told by educators that they will not be able to graduate from high school and that they are not capable of going to a college,” said Frankie Engelking, McLean’s director of student and community wellness. “Those exact students come to us, are very successful academically, grow emotionally, build confidence, graduate from McLean, go on to four-year programs, and have very meaningful lives and careers.”
It’s through McLean’s comprehensive approach to mental health, which gives children coping strategies rather than punishing them for poor behavior, that allows children to succeed. Teachers are encouraged to give equal importance to teaching skills like kindness, communication, and building strong relationships as teaching subjects like math and science. Using approaches and curricula such as Responsive Classroom and Second Step, educators are able to weave activities that promote mental wellness into daily classroom activity.
“From a teacher's point of view, being in a type of environment where administration, from Frankie and from others—just having the support to make issues of mental health, and stress, and anxiety a priority—is really important,” Rosenblum said. “We’re really empowered to try these different strategies, and it works wonders with these kids.”
While McLean’s students don’t take any standardized tests, making it difficult to empirically assess the impact of the school’s mental-health focus on their achievement, Rosenblum sees the McLean School's success in his students' increased confidence and excitement to participate in class. As students progress through McLean, Rosenblum said, many begin to advocate for themselves more often and learn to cope with anxieties and stressors that were once debilitating to their learning experience. And most students make progress on reading as evaluated at the beginning and end of the school year—a sign that the school’s model is effective considering many students enroll at below grade level.