MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Comprehensive Mental Health Forum Draws Over 350 Educators and School Staff with Both State and National Experts Sharing Lived Experiences

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 2, 2021
Contact: Kelli Deveaux

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) hosts a timely and successful workshop, “Supporting Maine Educators: A Forum to Bolster Mental Health in Our Schools” Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Augusta, Maine- On April 1, 2021 Maine Department of Education hosted a workshop, Supporting Maine Educators: A Forum to Bolster Mental Health in Our Schools as the latest in the Departments professional development efforts. The virtual, six-hour event was open to all educators and staff in Maine schools, and focused on acknowledging the struggles of this past year, celebrating successes, and building resources to support mental health for Maine’s school communities. While over 350 educators were able to attend live throughout the day, this event was intentionally designed to be accessible asynchronously for those who were working with students and in classrooms during the daylong event. The entire event will be available for viewing April 2nd  at School & Student Supports (O3S) | Department of Education (maine.gov)   and will include access to all resources.

“Ensuring the mental health and well-being of both staff and students in Maine’s schools has been and continues to be one of our greatest priorities,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of Education.  “While our schools continue to provide safe and welcoming classrooms and spaces in which all can grow and learn, our DOE team members are providing outstanding resources and professional development to assist educators in identifying and addressing mental health needs in students, and even in themselves.  I am so grateful to this amazing panel of professionals, who provided such a rich experience to over 350 of our Maine educators.”

Bear Shea, LCSW and Maine Department of Education’s School Counselor and Mental Health Specialist, spoke to the educators, and offered a message of gratitude on behalf of the Department. “We wanted to take this opportunity to recognize the essential work of our educators, especially in this last year during the pandemic as mental health concerns have never been more in the spotlight.”

With a goal of bringing greater awareness to the importance of mental health, destigmatizing mental illness, increasing mental health literacy for staff, administrators and community-based agencies, and to provide practical supports to bolster the mental wellness of students and staff, the event featured the following keynote speakers and was facilitated by Maine DOE mental health, social emotional learning, and school support specialists.

  • John T. Broderick, Jr.  Dartmouth- Hitchcock Senior Director of External Affairs Former Chief Justice of the NH Supreme Court
  • Ayesha Hall, District Social Emotional Learning and Equity Resource Coordinator for Lewiston Public Schools
  • Christine Proefrock, Music Director, Calais Middle School
  • Ellen Nicholas, K-8 Art Teacher at Sipayik Elementary School
  • Joanne Palumbo McCallie, Author and Former Duke, Michigan State and UMAINE Women’s Head Basketball Coach

The agenda featured sessions with each of the keynote speakers, which were then followed by a related panel discussion comprised of experts from the field, State agencies and community partners, as well as staff and students from Maine schools. Live attendees from across the state were able to share their own experiences and ask questions of the panelists.

  • The first keynote, “Changing the Culture and View of Mental Illness” focused on Judge Broderick’s work on eliminating stigma and raising understanding of mental health for youth. The panel discussion included Judge Broderick;Casey Maddock from Scarborough High School and Isaiah Doble from Camden Hills High School both Maine high school seniors; and Dr. Karen Barnes of the Maine School Safety Center, who discussed mental health stigma faced by Maine students and educators and the positive approaches that are being employed to support school mental health and wellbeing.
  • The second keynote, “Keep Calm and Educate On: The Impact of Covid-19 for Educators” centered on presentations from Maine educators who shared their experiences over the past year and the ways they have approached providing education and support through the adversity of the pandemic. The presenters included Ayesha Hall, District Social Emotional Learning and Equity Resource Coordinator for Lewiston Public Schools; Christine Proefrock, Music Director, Calais Middle School; and Ellen Nicholas, K-8 Art Teacher at Sipayik Elementary School, Perry Maine. Following the keynote, presenters were joined by Johnathan Radtke, Assistant Principal of Falmouth High School; Amber Nelson, at-risk youth attorney; and Bonnie Robbins, school counselor in Poland’s Whittier Middle School, to explore the impact of the pandemic on educators. The discussion covered the grief and loss from schools going remote in the spring of 2020, the importance of finding new ways to support students and staff during the crisis, and the lessons learned that have been used to build positive ways to continue to engage, educate and support schools now and in the future.
  • The closing keynote, “Stories Over Stigma: Finding the Secret Warrior Within All of Us” brought Maine coach phenom, Joanne Palumbo McCallie to share her own battle with mental health and negative stigma and to speak directly to the challenges educators and students have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the panel that followed, Coach P. was joined by Greg Marley of NAMI Maine; Kellie Bailey, DOE Social Emotional Learning Specialist; and Sarah Nelson, Social Emotional Learning Coach and 4thGrade Educator, Ames Elementary School, Searsmont Maine, to build on the keynote themes of mental health support and perseverance in face of adversity. The panel discussed the strengths of engaging with students and staff with a strong, relational approach, building adult social emotional learning and the power of building inclusive teams as a way to connect and support schools.

Attendees of the forum included school principals, social workers, counselors, superintendents, psychologists, nurses, teachers and many others from community agencies and organizations. They reported appreciation for recognition of the impact COVID-19 has had, and that the panels explored significant but seldom talked about topics including grief, stigma and practical ways to increase emotional health.

Yesterday’s forum was just the latest in Maine Department of Education’s efforts to address mental health and wellness for students and schools by providing robust professional development, technical assistance and resources to education professionals across the state, as students are best supported by the trusted teacher, counselor or family member who can recognize issues and guide our youth to the resources in their communities.

In 2019, when the new administration prioritized youth mental health, the DOE restructured and formed the Office of School and Student Supports (OSSS). This team is comprised of professional educators, social workers, counselors, community and family engagement specialists, health and wellness specialists, and healthcare providers as well as school based mental health clinicians. The comprehensive, collaborative team and their plan to address and support mental health and well-being for Maine’s students existed long before the pandemic and allowed them to pivot in the spring of 2020 to immediately address the impact of COVID19 on students and staff.

Since March of 2020, OSSS has provided over 5,300 contact hours directly to educators in content areas, training and support for schools on the employment of mental health best practices to support their students. Many of these training modules have been recorded and archived for anyone to use.

In November, Maine DOE announced the availability of a free, online, Maine developed and best-practice driven social emotional learning program for use with any students from prek-12.  The SEL4ME program has been accessed more than 30,000 times since November, and teachers are intertwining these developmentally appropriate lessons into their curriculum and expectations, helping students to build healthy body and mind skills by incorporating the assignments as a part of their classroom routines.

Please reach out to the Office of School and Students Supports at Maine DOE for further information and mental health support for educators and students.

 

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