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Chester County Consortium Hosts Mental Health and Trauma Panel Discussion

Downingtown, PA – On January 13, the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) hosted a panel discussion on trauma and trauma-sensitive practices with local experts as part of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) Chester County Consortium for Mental Health and Optimal Development. The consortium is facilitated by the CCIU in partnership with the UPenn Graduate School of Education and is a yearlong effort to implement mental health planning in Chester County school districts.


The panel discussion was led by Maiken Scott, producer and host of the WHYY program, “The Pulse.” It featured professionals who support mental health in the region, including Mary Beth Ertel, a licensed clinical psychologist; Caroline Glavin, a clinical social worker at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Kate Coulter, supervisor of pupil services at the West Chester Area School District; Sharif El-Mekki, chief executive officer and founder of the Center for Black Educator Development; and Michael Nakkula, professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania.


The conversation focused on trauma-sensitive practices in schools and was an opportunity for Chester County educators in attendance to hear from experts within a variety of fields. “A conversation like today’s is critical because we often find ourselves in silos in our different professions and unique roles, and it takes a village to be able to wrap services and support around youth and families, especially those who have been traumatized,” said Glavin, who concluded by stating, “We need an all-hands-on-deck approach.”


It is no surprise that the topic of trauma and mental health has come to the forefront following the pandemic, and many educators and parents are happy to see this issue getting the attention it needs. Ertel feels that the advocacy is critical to help keep the spotlight on mental health. “There’s still so much stigma around mental health. I see being an advocate as a really important part of my job and my role as a clinician because social stigma is one of the reasons why people don’t choose to seek out mental health support,” she said.


Panelists did not shy away from difficult subjects. A key goal of the consortium is for educators to walk away with a strategic plan to address mental health awareness and literacy in their schools and, oftentimes, that means having tough conversations. El-Mekki said, “To be an educator or to be in any type of work that is supporting and serving the community, particularly children, you have to be aware of mental health. When we’re thinking about social justice and racial justice, those are deeply intertwined with mental health. We know that poverty and racism impact mental health…to be unaware of that, one risks widening their blind spots instead of shrinking them.”


Other panelists agreed about the important role that educators play. Nakkula stated, “The main thing I care about is making everyone who interacts with young people aware that we all play a role in promoting each other’s mental health. Every interaction a teacher has with a student is very important in helping that student grow.”


The UPenn Chester County Consortium for Mental Health and Optimal Development has over 150 monthly participants from Chester County schools and is led by Andy Danilchick, director of the UPenn Project for Mental Health & Optimal Development, and Dr. Siobhan Leavy, CCIU director of student services.