Today’s teachers wear many hats: parent figure, referee, nurse, detective, and sometimes even counselor. Of course, teachers can’t be therapists or psychiatrists to students. Still, teachers are often the first line of defense when it comes to mental health. They know their students well and can usually pick up on when something isn’t quite right.
Schools play a critical role in getting kids the help they need. Many have hired mental health professionals to provide counseling during the school day, launched programs to reduce the stigma attached to mental health conditions, and introduced mental wellness screening.
The School District of Omro has done all of this and gone one step further by providing education and self-care supports for teachers.
Nurturing Omro’s Wellness (Omro NOW) – a multi-pronged approach to mental well-being in the School District of Omro – was launched in 2020 with the help of a three-year $247,000 grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, which is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within your Community Foundation, the J.J. Keller Foundation, and other community partners.
Through a unique collaboration involving Collaborative Wellness, the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection, Samaritan, and the school district, Omro NOW is helping all students and staff feel mentally, emotionally, and socially prepared for life’s ups and downs.
Collaborative Wellness offers one-on-one counseling at Omro schools, which increases student access and removes transportation barriers.
Programs like Sources of Strength (SOS), supported by the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection, train student leaders from all social groups to use social influence to change the school community by increasing help-seeking behaviors and promoting connections between youth and caring adults.
“SOS is bringing awareness to mental health and most importantly to how to help yourself and others. It is giving us, the students, resources to improve ourselves and get help when we need it,” shared one high school student.
Students in grades 7 and 9-12 can participate in the Wellness Screen offered by Samaritan. Simply put by one student, “It is a survey that is here to make sure we are okay.”
Students voluntarily answer questions about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Answers are confidential and only seen by Wellness Screen staff. If concerns are identified, results are discussed with the student and their parent/legal guardian and, if appropriate, support for follow-up resources and services is offered.
“Just as free lunch programs are based on the idea that a hungry child can’t learn, we recognize that a distracted or troubled mind cannot focus on schoolwork,” said Dr. Jay Jones, School District of Omro superintendent.
The district is also partnering with Collaborative Wellness to hold small group sessions for teachers, called Luminary Circles. The sessions provide teachers an avenue for self-care to avoid burnout, confidence to support others, as well as insights on how to recognize trauma in students and improve overall classroom effectiveness, safety, and engagement.
“As therapists, we don’t just want to bring in interventions that only we as experts can deliver,” said Collaborative Wellness Therapist, Lindsay Loewe. “We need to provide those on the front lines with tools to not only manage classroom behavior and equip kids with the basic coping skills they need to thrive, but also foster mental health and wellness in school staff. The interventions aim to honor the teacher as a whole person; connected with themselves and their profession, so that they can show up each day in their schools.“
“The Luminary Circles have given me new ways to look at circumstances that I am faced with daily as a teacher. I play many of our conversations over and over in my head until I see a situation from a better point of view. The tools and advice shared during the meetings have supported my mental health in a positive way and given me confidence to support others too,” shared one educator.