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SV expands counseling, adds trauma training

CRANBERRY TWP — After the stresses of the last two years of COVID-19 restrictions and the recent deaths by suicide of two teenage students, Seneca Valley School District plans to “ramp up” mental health support for both students and staff.

“With regard to mental health, we're also ramping up, this month, grief groups that we are co-leading between our counseling department and The Caring Place,” said Jeffrey Roberts, the district's director of student services, during Monday night's school board meeting. “Obviously at this time we have students that are grieving, and we want to be able to offer support to them.”

These moves, according to Roberts, are in addition to what the district has offered for years.

“Of course, continuing to offer support in our counseling offices, in our mindfulness rooms, through in-school therapy and also referrals to out-of-school therapy opportunities are all key things that we're working on right now with mental health,” he said.

Seneca's move appears to include longer-term focuses as well as those in the present and near future. Roberts said school counselors and psychologists will train teachers on recognizing signs of trauma and how it affects students and learning.

The training was developed by the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, a U.S. Department of Education program, according to Roberts.

“Of course, trauma takes many forms, and many of us immediately think of the passing of a loved one or the passing of a friend, or perhaps the collective trauma that we've experienced through COVID-19,” Roberts said. “But, of course, there's other traumas that maybe don't rise right to the surface, things like racial trauma or poverty and homelessness.”

In addition to helping teachers recognize signs of trauma, Roberts said the training will help them empathize with students who have or are experiencing trauma.

“Our staff need to be familiar with the range of post-traumatic responses that are common among our students and our teens,” he said. “Our staff need to be able to look through a trauma lens. Without a trauma lens, we might see a student as lazy. With a trauma lens, we might see that the student is responding differently because of what they're experiencing.”

This all works to provide students with resources they need to work through that trauma, according to Roberts.

“Students do not develop resiliency skills in isolation; they can be modeled by our staff and they can be explicitly taught,” Roberts said. “Resiliency is something that has to be constructed for our students to be able to gain those skills, and our teachers should be part of that.”