Prompted by national statistics on student mental health conditions and the needs that local Catholic school leaders have identified in their communities, the Catholic Schools Center of Excellence launched its Peace of Mind initiative in July 2020.
“The majority of calls I got as a principal came from parents worried about children feeling a high level of anxiety or showing early symptoms of depression — and this was long before COVID-19,” said Brian Ragatz, CSCOE president and former principal at St. Odilia Catholic School in Shoreview. “With Peace of Mind, one of our goals is to provide opportunities for teachers and counselors to help children better understand themselves and learn that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Peace of Mind, which CSCOE fully funds at no cost to schools, takes a three-pronged approach, primarily through Twin Cities-based Phoenix School Counseling. It offers a menu of services tailored to support Catholic school principals, teachers, parents and students:
- Principals can join small virtual groups to share experiences and learn strategies for handling trauma, anxiety and stress. Each principal can also access individual confidential consultations with a licensed psychologist, and can attend a wellness retreat.
- Teachers can access videos and live Zoom sessions on mental health-related topics. Each school can also designate staff members to take certification courses on how to address anxiety or ADHD.
- Parents can download free resources about social and emotional learning, access educational videos, and participate in monthly virtual presentations led by a psychologist. To directly support students, CSCOE is working to provide more counseling services for their individual needs. After attending a virtual session, one parent commented that she learned more in one hour than in two years of therapy.
Already, Peace of Mind is making an impact. In just three months, CSCOE hosted approximately 2,000 participants — principals, teachers and parents — in presentations, sessions and support groups from psychologist Dr. Jules Nolan and her team at Phoenix School Counseling.
“These talks all focus on understanding mental health through brain and behavioral science,” Dr. Nolan said. “When we understand the brain state that children are in, we can get through to them better. One problem is that the wellness industry has told us that if we’re unhappy or anxious or worried, we’re not healthy — and that’s 100% wrong.”
Dr. Nolan added, “The best thing parents can do is give their children the opportunity to experience some stress, so they can learn how to manage or alleviate it.”
“Ultimately, student achievement is stronger when kids are socially, emotionally and mentally balanced,” said Jennifer Haller, CSCOE’s director of excellence and former principal of St. Michael Catholic School in St. Michael.
By Sandra R. Sabo