NEARI: Mental health a critical issue in our schools

West Bay

EAST GREENWICH, R.I. (WPRI) — Meeting for the second year in a row, the National Education Association Rhode Island (NEARI) held its summit focused around mental health.

“Mental health is a key issue in school — a critical issue in our schools. It’s a critical issue in our society and we need to deal with it,” said Lawrence Purtill.

NEARI President Lawrence Purtill told Eyewitness News the conversation of mental health was brought front and center after the school shooting in Parkland, Fl.

“Governor Gina Raimondo and I were talking about how we can make schools safer,” Said Purtill.

The conversation regarding gun safety in schools quickly manifested into mental health according to Purtill. And on Saturday the conversation continued.

“The important thing here is more and more students are coming to school with mental health issues,” said Purtill. “That is impacting discipline, it’s impacting their ability to learn and socialize.”

Additionally, he said we need to solve those issues so students can learn and grow.

In attendance, Christi Saurette, a South Kingstown District social worker, agreed with Purtill.

“Teachers will tell you they’ve watched students lose that love of learning — Based on issues that have not been taken care of,” said Saurette.

Close to 100 attended the day-long workshop; which includes teachers and educational support professionals.

“These children are coming to us for 6.5-hours a day. We need to be there for them,” she said.

Those who attended learned about recognizing trauma and how to properly intervene.

“There is a wide range of things that could be considered trauma,” she said.

Saurette explains trauma can look differently on each student. It can stem from substance abuse, anxiety, isolation, depression, and much more.

“Living in poverty — Not knowing when you are going to get your next meal — Having someone in your family with a substance abuse problem — Not having a car/vehicle to get to and from school.”

Bottom-line, additional training, and more services are needed in Rhode Island’s schools.

And that is why these educators spent part of their weekend learning how they can better their students — your children.

“I think teachers who are coming out of college (and those new to a school) should know who the other people are in the building are, as far as, the mental health support staff.”

“New teachers should know how to recognize trauma — and I think that really has to come from the state,” said Saurette.

Adding in his final words — Lawrence Purtill hopes additional funding comes from state agencies.

“For councilors and psychologists — so when a student has a problem it can be immediately dealt with, rather than waiting for a person to be available.”

There are 24/7 hotlines:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Bradley Hospital Kids’ Link: 1-885-543-5465

You can click here to visit free online resources to help start a discussion with someone you know who’s affected.

Suicide prevention: Here’s how to get help » | Parent Guide: Suicide Prevention »

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