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The American Psychiatric Association Foundation's Notice. Talk. Act.® at School program trains not only teachers, but all school staff to be aware of students' mental health needs. Natalie Lee, a Special Education Counselor within the Mount Pleasant Independent School District in Titus County, Texas, reports that the program's broad appeal is one of the most impactful aspects of the training:
"When we initially talked to all the [MPISD] campuses about who needs to be in the training, one of the questions was about our custodian staff and our cafeteria workers. We answered, absolutely, we need to bring them into the training. For those little elementary students, that is their first point of contact in the morning. We had a staff member working in the cafeteria who said, 'I really do notice, because I see them every day, first thing, they're getting their breakfast, and for the most part, they have big smiles on their faces, and they're excited, but we notice those times when they may come in and it looks like they've had a bad morning, or they've been crying.' That truly is the first point of contact, even before they get into the teacher's room, and so to hear cafeteria staff say, 'We do notice those things, and it's helpful to have some training to be able to engage that student’… I just think that's what [Notice. Talk. Act.® at School] is all about."
The Notice. Talk. Act.® at School training was developed by the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) to equip K-12 educators and school personnel with an increased awareness of how to appropriately respond to students presenting mental health concerns. The training imparts the knowledge and skills needed to notice early warning signs, to effectively talk with students about their mental health, and to refer students with emerging conditions to appropriate support services. The training has been implemented in more than 220 school systems across the country.
Protecting the mental wellbeing of students is a pressing priority for educators and parents. For many students, receiving support for mental health conditions makes the difference between surviving and thriving. A 2022 poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found overwhelming parent support for mental health programming in schools. Specifically, the majority of adults polled agreed that it is important for schools to play a key role in mental health through educating students about the topic (86%), staff training (87%), or connecting students to mental health support (84%).
Mount Pleasant Independent School District (MPISD) serves as a model for the role that Notice. Talk. Act.® at School can play in school communities. MPISD serves over 5,200 students on eight campuses, including almost 1,000 special education students, and has implemented Notice. Talk. Act.® at School throughout the entire school district. Alongside Justin Chambers, the MPISD Special Education Director, Natalie has played an important role in the implementation of this training as the coordinator of psychological services for MPISD.
Although she has witnessed the impact of Notice. Talk. Act.® on students in her school district, Natalie says that she was surprised to observe the most noticeable changes in staff: "After the training, the staff are so much more comfortable and so much more willing to engage students because they feel like they have a little bit of a background and a little bit of knowledge. But they also just have that confidence."
Natalie has found that Notice. Talk. Act.® empowers MPISD school staff to build upon existing skills to connect with students about their wellbeing. "It's really just giving staff the confidence to be themselves and have relationships with kids that they normally already would, and just reminding them how impactful that is. It's not just one more training to stick on the shelf and have in our toolkit, but it's encouraging because, as you're sitting there learning, you're thinking, 'Oh, I'm doing this, anyways'."
Natalie emphasized that the skills learned in Notice. Talk. Act.® are a daily practice: "These are actual tips and tricks that we're going to use every single day. It is very refreshing to have a training that almost validates things that you're already doing, and just sort of enhances that more."
When asked what she would share with another school administrator about Notice. Talk. Act.®, Natalie said that using the skills learned in the training can bring about an instant and tangible difference. "You can immediately notice the impact of trying it with one student," says Natalie. "That's validating to just recognize that, 'Hey, I've mentioned that this student had normally been happy, and today he looks sad, and so I had a conversation, and that helped.' That immediate reinforcement is nice."
Notice Talk Act at School Impact Stories showcase more examples of how the training has impacted staff and students in other school communities. To learn more about the training and how it can help your school, please visit the APA Foundation website at https://www.apafdn.org/impact/schools/notice-talk-act-at-school.