Kaiser Permanente Hosts Mental Health Summit for School Districts

Event explores mental health needs and best practices in local schools.

Mental health is a rapidly growing topic of conversation in Colorado with more than 1 million people — adults and children — living with depression or anxiety in our state. Encouraging strides are being made in breaking down stigma and providing more access to mental health resources but more can and must be done — especially for youth in Colorado who rank third-highest in the United States for mental health needs.

“Mental health is a national issue and in many ways our schools are on the front line of the growing crisis. We all must come together to look for solutions and opportunities to work collaboratively on supporting and improving mental health for youth in Colorado,” said Sarah Davidon, research director for Mental Health Colorado.

As part of that needed collaboration, Kaiser Permanente and Mental Health Colorado held a two-day mental health summit in April 2019 at the University of Denver to learn from and help school districts across Colorado develop new approaches to addressing mental health needs in their classrooms.

The event, which garnered more than 120 participants, featured Jeannie Ritter, mental health ambassador for Mental Health Center of Denver as the first day’s emcee. Speakers included mental health experts like Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente national lead for mental and behavioral health, and Elizabeth Cook, senior national advisor for social and emotional health for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

Other guest speakers included representatives from several school districts in Colorado who shared examples and best practices. The presenters included:

  • Cherry Creek Schools:
    Dr. Scott Siegfried, Superintendent
    Dr. Ron Lee, Director of Mental Health
  • Englewood Schools:
    Dr. Wendy Rubin, Superintendent
    Callan Clark, Executive Director of Student Services
  • Littleton Public Schools:
    Nate Thompson, Director of Social, Emotional, and Behavior Services
  • Roaring Fork Public Schools:
    Rob Stein, Superintendent
    Sarah Fedishen, Director of Family Services

“This is a critical conversation on mental health we can’t shy away from having — not just for school districts but for all Coloradans,” said Dr. Scott Siegfried, Cherry Creek Schools superintendent.

“This summit helps us get in front of more school districts, business and community leaders, as well as local elected officials to help shed light on what is working well in our schools and where we need more engagement and support from the community.”

Summit participants brainstormed funding opportunities with some of the most influential organizations in Colorado like the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. Some ideas included adding more on-site mental health staff and implementing new programs using technology and data to support mental health for teachers, staff, and students.

The summit also featured a preview of a locally-developed play called Resilience in School Environments Understanding and Practice (RISE UP). This workshop is a complimentary learning session for school staff and teachers designed to foster resilience and support school staff as they work with traumatized students. The program helps school staff members develop systems to take care of themselves and support their own wellness.

“It’s amazing that we can present this workshop in a setting that includes an audience of school administrators and superintendents who also need support handling mental health needs of students and staff. This is just one more piece of the conversation —how we can all come together to better meet the mental health needs of our schools and communities,” said Curtis Robbins, Kaiser Permanente Colorado lead for community health, and RISE UP program architect.

Along with interactive workshops and brainstorming sessions, there were several breakout sessions that included in-depth conversation on increasing family and parent engagement; implementing universal social, emotional and mental health screening; and improving trauma-informed policies and practices.

The final day of the summit included powerful conversation on developing systems and structures to foster staff resiliency. Participants engaged in conversation on how to develop sustainable solutions that enable staff to thrive, not just survive, in stressful situations. This conversation was centered on improving and supporting staff mental health in order to improve student mental health.

“What I’m taking away from this event is the collaborative effort that is needed to help schools achieve better mental health for all their students and staff. We’re all working hard to come up with an answer but we’re doing it, most times, in a confined setting. We need more summits like this — we need more interaction and sharing of these ideas. It’s for the benefit of our entire community,” said summit participant Cory Notestine, director of counseling and wellness for Colorado Springs School District 11.

“The call for more conversation on mental health support isn’t reserved just for the halls of our schools — this is for all Coloradans,” said Cory Foreman, Kaiser Permanente Colorado vice president of Marketing, Sales and Business Development, and summit speaker.

“By convening this summit with Mental Health Colorado, we’re bringing together some of the biggest influencers in the hopes that this conversation, these plans, and more action can be taken by all of us in Colorado.”


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