Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Students, teachers, administrators, and other education professionals across the state are receiving more support, resources, and training on mental health issues, thanks to the new Scanlan Center for School Mental Health (SCSMH).

This past summer, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a partnership between the Iowa Department of Education and the University of Iowa aimed at expanding support for mental health, including training, resources, and outreach to educators and schools across the state.

The new center is leveraging the capacities of the Iowa Department of Education and the UI College of Education’s Baker Teacher Leader Center. The partnership helps expand training opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers as well as related service providers (e.g. counselors, psychologists and social workers) through professional development resources and services to support mental health needs in schools. The center’s faculty also will conduct research studies on the effective delivery of these services to students.

“The Iowa Center for School Mental Health further reinforces our commitment to ensuring Iowa’s youth have all the tools they need to be successful in school and in life,” says Reynolds. “This partnership between the Department of Education and the University of Iowa College of Education will better prepare schools and teachers to meet the behavioral and mental health needs of Iowa’s K-12 students, a role that’s increasingly important in a post-pandemic world.”

The Iowa Center for School Mental Health is housed in the UI College of Education, initially partnering with experts in the following UI colleges:

  • Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine
  • School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • College of Nursing
  • College of Public Health

“Ensuring students feel connected and supported is crucial to their overall well-being and academic achievement,” says Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “The Iowa Center for School Mental Health brings together education partners, policymakers and mental health professionals to address the impact pandemic-related disruptions have had on students and is focusing on strengthening mental health support moving forward.”

The center began providing some services and support to schools over the summer and expects to include crisis response services, face-to-face and online training and professional development (PD) and coaching for teachers, strategic planning support, needs assessment and program evaluation of social-emotional learning, and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) implementation.

“I am proud that our university and college are part of this critical partnership to meet the mental health needs of Iowa K-12 students and their families, teachers, administrators and other school employees,” says UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay. “We are grateful to our state leadership for recognizing the expertise in our college and across campus to bring best practices and evidence-based support to schools. Together, we are creating healthier, stronger, and more resilient students, educators and communities.”

Allison Bruhn, a special education associate professor and SCSMH interim executive director, says she is honored to lead the new center and work with a talented team of campus and community partners to expand mental health services provided to schools.

“Although mental health needs in schools and school-age kids are not new and have been on the rise for some time, the pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues across the continuum,” Bruhn says. “Using what we know from research and best practices, we are working with schools and communities to expand services and supports, with the goal of making a positive difference.”

In addition to students, teachers are receiving more support and resources, thanks to a new webinar series on social emotional and behavioral health (SEBH), for which educators can receive Iowa licensure renewal units— just one example of many PD and training opportunities offered.

“It’s imperative we create systems to support the social-emotional-behavioral health of our education professionals,” says Kari Vogelgesang, clinical associate professor, elementary education and special education and SCSMH interim director of professional development.

Vogelgesang adds, “Improving the SEBH of our educators directly impacts their ability to assist student SEBH needs. We’re excited to roll out evidence-based training focused on giving our education professionals the skills they need to best support the SEBH needs of our P-12 students, and to couple that training with supports for our education professionals that focuses on improving their overall well-being so that they don’t burnout and leave the field.”

The Iowa Department of Education designated $20 million in federal relief provided in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER ll) Fund within the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRSSA) Act to help support the center’s work. The law provides for a portion of Iowa’s total ESSER ll funds to be used for state-level educational efforts to address urgent issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This partnership is part of a larger statewide initiative to support student well-being and mental health through new partnerships and strategies that help all students be “future ready.” Numerous collaborative relationships have already been formed with agencies, advocates, other Regents institutions, and stakeholders committed to improving mental health in schools and communities. Searches are underway to hire additional faculty, post-doctorates, and staff to support the center’s growth. 


2021 Iowa Best Summit: Day 2 Keynote - Dr. Jacob Priest

In addition to providing the SEBH Webinar series, in early November, the center held a two-day school mental health summit, the Iowa BEST: Behavioral, Equitable, Social-Emotional, Trauma-Informed Health in Schools Summit, in Des Moines. The summit, which was co-hosted by the Iowa Department of Education, drew more than 1,600 participants, offering training and resources.

Center staff are also continuing to conduct research that translates into evidence-based, best practices for educators and students across the state.

“Promoting cutting-edge research on best practices in school mental health is critical for ensuring our students and teachers are truly receiving the most effective supports to improve outcomes,” says Gerta Bardhoshi, associate professor of Counselor Education and SCSMH interim director of research and training. “We are honored to have this opportunity to work with campus and community partners to help our students and educators across the state.”

Photo by Iowa Department of Education

Support school mental health in Iowa
If you would like to support the College of Education's School Mental Health Support Fund, visit givetoiowa.org/ed-smhf.

Read more from the Annual Report 2021.