Grant Aims to Expand Mental Health Training in Colorado Middle Schools

By Poncie Rutsch



It’s no secret that schools struggle to address the mental health issues of their students. Many teachers feel ill-equipped to recognize, let alone support, a student who demonstrates symptoms of mental illness.

That’s one reason behind Safe Communities Safe Schools, a University of Colorado-Boulder program designed to encourage emotional health and well-being in schools, and to identify and treat students who have mental health issues. The initiative is the recipient of more than $6 million from the National Institute of Justice to bring the program to 32 middle schools along the Front Range.

Teachers are one of the first people who might notice a young person struggling — be it coping with academic or extracurricular stress, dealing with family issues, or managing a mental illness like depression. Yet it’s difficult for each individual teacher to make mental health a classroom priority. They already have a lot on their hands.

“Across the board, teachers are conflicted because they care about it but they’re not often supported,” says Monica Fitzgerald, a clinical psychologist and a researcher for the program.


Teachers tell her that they want to learn more strategies to manage mental health in the classroom, but it’s already difficult to balance academic demands.

One answer, Fitzgerald says, is to make sure that each teacher learns a few strategies to integrate into lessons; ways for students to manage stress, express themselves, or build positive relationships with their peers. Beverly Kingston, the director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU-Boulder, agrees.

“Every kid can benefit from social and emotional learning,” says Kingston, who will oversee the Safe Communities Safe Schools program. “Every kid can benefit from bully prevention.”

Another answer is to make mental health the responsibility of every individual in the school — not just the teachers…