ANN ARBOR, MI January 6 2020– Working with school districts to help students manage symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress is precisely what Elizabeth Koschmann had in mind when she shifted away from private practice.
Koschmann, a psychiatrist, and her team in a University of Michigan program called TRAILS, or Transforming Research into Action to Improve the Lives of Students, is now partnering with the Detroit Public Schools Community District through a $3-million expansion of the program over the next three years.
The program will bring mental health resources to each of the district’s 110 schools, with the potential to reach 50,000 students and 4,000 staff by helping improve social and academic outcomes across all grade levels – by far the largest school district TRAILS has worked with.
“I found it very professionally frustrating to feel that was just a tiny drop in the bucket for the enormous number of kids that are impacted by illnesses like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Koschmann, TRAILS director, said of working with children on an individual basis.
“What we know from our research and the professional literature is that school staff and faculty often lack access to high quality training and resources to help them provide evidence-based care to students who are impacted by mental illness. So, it’s extremely exciting to be able to think about connecting with a district of that size.”
TRAILS provides instruction to school professionals in evidence-based mental health care approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, then links community mental health providers with their local schools to provide follow-up coaching.
TRAILS began working with Ann Arbor Public Schools in 2013 and has since trained more than 400 school mental health professionals in 64 counties. TRAILS is now covered in 40 Washtenaw County schools alone.
Work with the Detroit district began last year with the collection of data from 4,000 staff members and more than 10,000 students, Koschmann said. That data is the basis of programming recommendations the team will provide to the district this winter.
TRAILS staff will help the district implement and evaluate mental health programming through universal education and stigma reduction, early intervention and crisis response and risk management, Koschmann said. Programming will roll out in roughly 30 schools a year through 2022.
While those are often the steps TRAILS takes in working with any school or district, Koschmann said it is important to speak with teachers and administrators in the Detroit district to get a sense of what the priorities are and where professional development might be lacking.
“There is a long history of academic institutions partnering with what they label ‘high-risk’ communities or underserved communities with their own agendas saying, ‘This is what we think you need,’” Koschmann said. “That was really the opposite of how we wanted to partner with the district.
“What we wanted was to first hear from them about what they had in place that was working and where did they feel they had strength, really good programs and staff and faculty and then build off that. So, we’re trying to be true collaborators.”
Detroit Public Schools Community District identified student mental health as a key priority in its strategic plan, with the expectation of TRAILS helping improve social and academic outcomes.
The support TRAILS provides is constantly evolving, Koschmann said. It began by providing fundamental cognitive behavioral therapy training to school professionals until it expanded when new research emerged pointing to the benefits associated with addressing mindfulness and the impact of trauma on students.
“What we hear from staff is, ‘This is the only place that we can go where we can get the resources that are actually relevant to the work that we’re doing on a day to day basis,’” Koschmann said. “The training TRAILS provides keeps them up to speed with a field that is changing all the time with advances in research on the science of mental health treatment.”
Funding for the Detroit program expansion is supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Ethel and James Flinn Foundation, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, Prosper Road Foundation and other sponsors.