Adults learn to identify, respond to student distress


Malcolm Taylor

Junior Michael Pan speaks with science teacher Kevin Nihil about AT Chemistry.

Lucia Kouri, Editor-In-Chief

As the year kicked off, 122 Lab teachers, administrators and clerical staff will be trained to understand, identify and respond to signs of distress in youth, connecting them to supportive services. Program members will be nationally certified in Mental Health First Aid, following a set curriculum produced by the National Council for Mental Well-Being.

While a specific curriculum is followed, Nicole Neal, Lab’s director of student services, says the training will also cover scenarios specific to different parts of the Lab community. Data from Lab’s annual health and wellness survey has been a guiding resource. 

“We’re working with our partners to provide them some context for some trends that we’ve seen at the Lab throughout the grade levels,” Ms. Neal said. “So for high school, we’ll be really thinking about stress — a rigorous curriculum relative to expectations from parents or peers, or even from yourselves.” 

According to Ms. Neal, the need for this training is particularly urgent in current times. 

“Given everything that we’ve been through as a community with the pandemic — with the racial unrest in our nation, the elections and then just being children in this day and age,” Ms. Neal said, “if you don’t have solid support, or you don’t have competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, healthy decision-making skills and then healthy relationships, you can really struggle.” 

The training will take place in three parts: first, with a self-paced introductory course, followed by two synchronous sessions, each two hours long and separated by school division. School adults who did not participate in this round will have another opportunity for training in March.

Ms. Neal said the tremendous demonstration of interest, in particular from teachers, has been encouraging. 

“Teachers really want to be able to help students,” Ms. Neal said. “Teachers see things, they hear things, they get to know students in ways that other adults in the buildings don’t.” 

Teachers really want to be able to help students. Teachers see things, they hear things, they get to know students in ways that other adults in the buildings don’t.”

— Nicole Neal

P.E. teacher Tom Piane, who is participating in the training, said he has noticed significant interest from fellow teachers. 

“I know a lot of faculty are going to do it in the spring as well, so I feel like a lot of faculty are going to do it over the course of the year, which I think is very good,” Mr. Piane said.

Mr. Piane said the material learned in the training could be incorporated into his own teaching, as it overlaps with the general curriculum of the P.E. department.

“So far, it’s been good as far as giving adults good tools to help students or teenagers in general with mental health issues, and also how to care for ourselves,” Mr. Piane said. “I’m teaching stress-redux right now with my sophomores, and we discuss stress and freshmen health. Hopefully we can intertwine them in our classes and make our program better.”

The opportunity to be certified nationally, Ms. Neal said, contributes to the significance of the training on a broader scale. 

“To me, it indicates a community of folks across the nation who are committed to this work and also a cohort of people who really do understand mental health and how it impacts children.” 

The training will be offered at least every three years, if not annually, so new adults can sign up and others can get re-certified. For now, Ms. Neal hopes the next offered round of training will garner as much interest as this one has. 

“If we can say 300 adults at Lab are nationally certified as Youth Mental Health First Aiders,” Ms. Neal said, “I think that’s a tremendous boost in our community around a topic that is so necessary.”