Mental health among elementary school students is a growing problem in the Twin Cities, according to the head of the Unit 5 school district.
Superintendent Mark Daniel said aggressiveness and rage can affect an entire school environment even if only two or three children per building have troubles.
"I have recently met with teachers and building-level administrators and I can tell you the physical and emotional strain on educators is noticeable. It's visible. We need to take this very seriously," Daniel said on GLT's Sound Ideas.
Daniel said this is fundamentally different behavior than in the past. Kindergartners and first-graders always need to have boundaries established and teachers try to create patterns of behavior. Eventually, he said, kids learn how to sit, learn how to do small groups, and go about a day.
"But now we're seeing very disruptive behavior, aggressive, out of control, throwing things, smashing things, they become uncontrollable and difficult to restrain," said Daniel.
Daniel said he's not sure about the source of the behavioral troubles. He said some childhood traumas can change the way young brains develop and if allowed to go unresolved can permanently shift how young people develop.
He said the Unit Five Education Association and its parent union, the NEA, are also looking at specific programs to implement across the country.
"Over the last five to 10 years there has been a marked difference in behavior of adolescent and early childhood populations compared to previous generations," said Daniel.
He said the incidence of these troubles cuts across socioeconomic boundaries. These are children too young to be formally diagnosed as special needs and perhaps, he said, they would never be placed in that category.
"It's something different," he said.
"We're at the point of saying how can we create an intervention program that addresses the immediate need, working not just with the child, but with wrap-around programs so we also engage the family. It happens not only at school, you know it certainly happens at home and we can't just separate the two," said Daniel.
Daniel said he’s talking with District 87 about intervention and mental health services for these children.
He said families must also work with schools to pinpoint what resources children need to improve behavior.
Daniel said the discussions include potentially sharing personnel or even a pullout facility that has solutions for kids. He said educators have also met with the county, which is looking at adult mental health services.
He said he is not sure whether a specialist, guidance counselor at the elementary level, a social worker or a hybrid of the two will be the path forward. He said it will require a unique person. Some school buildings already have a hybrid program to address the issue.
Daniel said the district is low on funds for behavioral interventions.
"We're still going to have to figure out how to move other dollars or look at ways to reduce other things. We do see this as a high priority and we do need to address it," said Daniel.
Daniel said the situation is so urgent he wants to move on it soon after the holiday break.
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