The Connecticut consultation program that Yale studied follows specific guidelines as laid out by the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. However, experts agree that whenever educators collaborate with mental-health professionals to support students with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, whether it’s a consultation program or on-the-ground mental-health professionals, the outcome results in more well-adjusted students.
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.
McLean School’s approach, however, is not something that all children and their parents can afford to experience. The school does offer financial aid, but without assistance the price tag for kindergarten enrollment is upwards of $30,000 — and tuition only increases as students get older. This reinforces the need for programs like Connecticut’s statewide model that provide mental-health resources for all children, not just those with the means to afford it.