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Laguna Beach school district OKs 14-week staff training addressing students’ mental health needs

The Laguna Beach Unified School District board in June 2019.
The Laguna Beach Unified School District approved a contract with the director of the Children’s School for an optional training series for teachers and instructional assistants focusing on students’ mental health.
(File Photo)

The Laguna Beach Unified School District has approved a contractor agreement with the director of the Children’s School in Irvine for an optional training series for district staff members focusing on students’ mental health.

The 14-week course is designed to help teachers and instructional assistants learn how to address the behavioral and social-emotional needs of students in grades four through eight.

The training will be provided to certificated and classified staff members by Sabrina Schuck, who leads training and program development at the Children’s School, a private K-8 school for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and related challenges. The district will pay Schuck for 16 hours of training from February to May at a rate of $250 per hour.

“We’ve noticed an increase in the social, emotional and behavioral needs of our students, including those served in general education settings,” Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said. “While specialists typically have specific coursework or training for these needs, our general education staff — teachers and classified employees — have varying levels of expertise.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six children ages 2 to 8 has been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.

“As a result of studies ... and the dedication of the academic communities in the fields of psychology, medicine and education striving over the past 20 [to] 30 years to find ways to include children with mental health challenges in general education settings, public schools now have far greater supports in place and services available to these children than we did in 1990,” Schuck said in an email. “Still, outcomes for these children remain less than optimal when compared to their more typically developing peers.”

“The vast majority of teachers I have encountered over the years pursued teaching because they want to help children — all children,” Schuck added. “But many just simply have not acquired the tools to do that optimally.”

Though professional development seminars and workshops have helped teachers in the area over the years, Schuck said, teachers often report that it’s difficult to take what is learned into actual classroom settings.

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“They feel empowered and are excited to come back from a training to implement strategies, but then they encounter challenges in the trenches and situations resulting from putting new practices in place,” Schuck said. “And [they] often abandon trying.”

The first half of the course, between Feb. 6 and April 2, will include information about common childhood developmental disorders and how they may present in children in general education settings.

It will highlight topics like executive function skills — the mental processes that allow for planning, focusing, instruction retention and multitasking.

The second half, April 23 through May 28, will focus on applying behavior management strategies in the classroom.

Participants will have weekly assignments to complete in their classrooms.

“We have been working for years to bring this service directly to the teachers in the trenches who are increasingly serving children with a variety of behavioral and social-emotional challenges in their general education classrooms,” Schuck said. “I am excited to bring my expertise to Laguna’s ... teachers.”

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