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Haddonfield School District plans for optimum mental health

Students and staff at all levels offered care for return to school.

With a final expected revision to occur before late August, Haddonfield School District is planning for a hybrid educational model for a return to the classroom on Sept. 8, while also keeping a 100-percent virtual option for parents who don’t wish for their children to be physically present once school begins. 

Managing the number of students who choose either option, and tending to their individual mental-health concerns, will present an ongoing challenge for district counselors. Staff, administrators and students — all caught up in the whirlwind of the unknown as they face the new, fluid reality — are also certain to require some guidance and reassurance. 

At the July 17 board of education meeting, a new Employee Assistance Plan to address mental health was approved. According to Assistant Superintendent Gino Priolo, the following benefits are available for staff — as well as for each individual living in their households — directly related to such issues:

  • Six face-to-face counseling visits with a certified mental health clinician (six for each member of a household) 
  • Unlimited telephonic counseling with a certified mental health clinician
  • 30 days of personalized financial coach on unlimited issues
  • 30-minute legal consultation on unlimited issues with a 25 percent discount on retained attorneys
  • Identify theft recovery services
  • Personal mediation services

Priolo stated the district will also be providing enhanced training for all of its mental health staff, led by world-renowned psychologist Dr. Phillip Kendall, the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University.  

Dr. Kendall has published material in more than 800 publications during his career, including more than 40 books and treatment manuals. His treatment for anxiety in youth has been translated into more than a dozen languages, and has been identified by his peers as a “Most Highly-Cited” individual in all of the social and mediation sciences.

During the 2019-20 school year, 15 faculty members participated in RULER  (Recognizing, Understanding, Labeling, Expressing and Regulating) training, and these teachers comprise the foundation of implementation teams in each of the district’s five schools. 

“We will continue the staff training and implementation of the RULER social emotional learning framework. This evidence-based framework was developed by the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University,” Priolo continued. 

RULER is designed for usage in classrooms from kindergarten through eighth grade, to promote the five different skills explained above and teach emotional intelligence, according to Yale’s CEI.

Each team is headed by each school’s respective principals, except Haddonfield Memorial High School, where Dean of Students Hamisi Tarrant is the administrator involved. 

“Our focus thus far has been on the adults in the organization, knowing that before educators can help develop emotional intelligence in our students, the adults have to first develop emotional intelligence within themselves,” Priolo said.  

“We will also be administering a student SEL survey to help gauge individual student social emotional wellness shortly after the start of the school year.”

According to Priolo, training undertaken by adults — which started in January and is expected to conclude at the end of the calendar year — will fulfill the district’s goal to fully train adults involved before bringing RULER training to students. Part of the initiative will be rolled out to students in both live and virtual sessions, by teaching students how to use the RULER tools of emotional intelligence. 

Priolo added that all current district and school counseling staff and services will be available to students this coming year, as they had been through both the in-school and distance-learning models from last year.

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