By Statewide AEA Well-being Team
As students across the state of Iowa arrive at their school buildings each day, they are met by educational staff who aim to provide top-notch academic instruction to prepare them for their future goals and careers. However, preparing students to be future-ready involves not only building academic skills but also ensuring students have strong relational, social, emotional and behavioral abilities. Research shows that students achieve higher academic levels when they receive social-emotional and mental health support.
Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) are key partners in this work and come alongside schools to prioritize every student’s mental health and well-being needs. This article highlights the role of AEAs, including the work of the AEA Statewide Well-being Team, as a vital support for Iowa’s students and schools. The recently introduced proposed legislation poses a serious threat to our schools’ ability to address the mental health needs of students without these critical supports.
Multiple qualified mental health professionals are employed within Iowa’s AEAs. These professionals have a range of expertise and experiences that make them a valuable asset that is readily accessible to schools. Individuals and teams across the state aim to provide the most recent, research-based support and service to schools, regardless of their location. In short, AEAs are critical in building relationships with schools to prevent mental health crises, respond quickly when schools have a need and ensure positive results occur.
Relationships & Proactive Service
- In many schools, there may be limited staff available who can adequately meet their students’ mental health and well-being needs. No matter whether a rural district has a single school counselor or an urban district has a comprehensive team, the AEA is a place to turn to for training and learning. Educators can reach out directly to their local AEA and receive prompt service and help.
- When educators engage in learning with the AEAs, they are offered coaching support as they put their learning into practice. Without this unique and critical element, what is learned in professional development may not be put in place. Best practices don’t benefit students if they don’t reach them. Importantly, the support doesn’t end on the day of training — AEAs are committed to building long-term relationships with schools to prevent mental health crises and ensure positive outcomes for all students.
- When students feel welcome and valued at school, it can increase engagement and academic success and improve mental health outcomes. AEAs work directly with classroom teachers to build safe learning environments that are free of bullying and harassment and recognize the value of each student.
- The connection between schools and local mental health resources is critical for students and educators alike. However, not all schools have the resources or knowledge necessary to locate long-term support in their area. The AEAs bridge the gap by connecting schools with local agencies and providers, ensuring that educators know where to turn for ongoing support.
- The longevity of the AEAs has provided a unique support service with a solid reputation for best practices and long-standing relationships. Removing this net of safety and support will leave educators without trusted sources to support their work. Our system structure allows us to collaborate with other agencies and authorities, such as the Mental Health and Disability Services Regions, the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health and local behavioral health and mental health providers and be nimble enough to scale services to meet needs. We intend to work toward efficiencies to not duplicate services when not needed.
- With increasing student absences across the state and nationwide, AEAs work closely with schools to address this issue and build systems that help students attend school regularly. Regular attendance is crucial for students to have the chance to learn and build positive relationships with teachers and classmates.
- Schools provide support not only to their students but to families as well. The AEAs help local schools identify the resources in their community and build networks of support for parents and caregivers. When mental health resources are few and far between in a local community, AEAs help to fill this gap.
- When a crisis occurs in a school, the AEA quickly puts a team of trained professionals into action to respond to the district’s needs. When our schools experience natural disasters, death or school violence, the AEAs swiftly respond.
- The AEAs are committed to providing results-based services that directly impact Iowa students’ academic performance, attendance and behavioral needs. By regularly reviewing data, the AEAs can make informed adjustments to their services, ensuring that students receive the support they need to succeed.
AEAs ensure that Iowa’s students have access to mental health and well-being support, regardless of their school’s size or location. To learn more about the specific mental health and well-being resources provided by Iowa’s AEAs, visit the Supporting Mental Health in Iowa Schools website.