ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: McCrory targets youth mental health first aid for safer schools plan

by Michelle Saxton
Saturday, September 7, 2013

Encouraging more adults to be attentive and willing to intervene early in addressing problems is the first priority in keeping students safe, North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos has said.

Wos joined Gov. Pat McCrory for a visit to John T. Hoggard High School in Wilmington on Friday, Sept. 6, to unveil a recent safer schools report and announce the establishment of a task force to address school safety concerns.

She spoke of a new tool they were working to bring to North Carolina involving youth mental health first aid.

“Just like we all know we have CPR certification, presently there is evidence-based programs that train adults to be attentive to mental health issues of the students and to intervene before the problems escalate,” Wos told a crowd of students, community and state leaders and law enforcement officials gathered in the school’s library. “This new program will include training to recognize unique risk factors, to recognize early warning signs both in mental health problems in our adolescents as well as substance abuse and how we can help you — the youth.”

Mental health and addiction were among issues of greatest interest regarding safer schools, McCrory said, adding he soon hoped to announce initiatives to fight addiction and drug and alcohol abuse among students.

“We’re very concerned about your future,” McCrory told the students. “If there is abuse and drugs and alcohol at such a young age, that’s going to impact your future families and your ability to get a job and have a good education.”

Bullying and cyberbullying were also major concerns, the governor said.

“The peer pressures that you’re under now are something that my generation didn’t have to deal with,” McCrory said. “I can’t imagine the peer pressure or the bullying of what you get in Facebook and tweeting.”

Mental health, physical security, school climate and emergency preparedness were main focuses of a recent report by the Center for Safer Schools, which McCrory established earlier this year within the state Department of Public Safety.

The center held a series of forums throughout the state this year to learn from students, parents and education officials about school safety needs, said State Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry, who also attended the event.

“We’ve learned that school safety starts and ends within the community and the families of students attending these schools,” Perry said.

McCrory also established the Governor’s Task Force on Safer Schools this month to help advise the center. About 20 members will serve on the task force, including school board members, law enforcement officers, school administrators, a teacher, a student, a parent, a school psychologist and a juvenile justice professional.

Before the event, a group of citizens, including some teachers, gathered outside Hoggard to voice concerns about public education funding.

Tara Smith-Russell, a parent and a substitute teacher at the Cape Fear Center for Inquiry, was among those holding signs and passing out information about the North Carolina Association of Educators.

“I would like to see more money put into our public schools; I think we need to strengthen them to make them successful,” Smith-Russell said. “I’ve seen wonderful things done by our teachers.

They work so hard … We should value them as educators; they need raises.”

After the event, McCrory addressed the issue of teacher protest and education funding concerns.

“I concur with some of what the teachers are saying,” McCrory said, adding he strongly disagreed with a legislative decision to put education policy into the budget resolution.

McCrory noted he had made some amendments, including asking the state school board to reinstate master’s pay for teachers currently in that degree program.

“My budget did include a teacher pay raise, but in defense the Medicaid just blew our budget away,” McCrory also said. “I’m going to be looking for every way I can to get teachers more money, and I also am going to ask … the teacher unions to give us more flexibility to reward the best of the best teachers.”

Meanwhile, during the event Wos and McCrory encouraged students to reach out to each other, such as sitting with a lonely classmate at lunch.

“That student could be dealing with major issues that we’re not aware of, whether it be (at) home or with fellow students. Seek out and help them,” McCrory said. “So you also have a responsibility.”

“The impact that you can have on another human being is just absolutely monumental,” Wos said. “Please be attentive to others. Your intervention can actually save another human being’s life.”

email michelle@luminanews.com

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