By Kathryn Rice

Through funds gained from the St. Francis Foundation galas’ past three years and a rural mental health grant provided by UMKC, Mosaic Medical Center – Maryville is going to provide nine area schools with the CharacterStrong program to help with students’ mental health.

The Nodaway County schools participating are Nodaway-Holt, South Nodaway, Northeast Nodaway, North Nodaway, Jefferson, West Nodaway and St. Gregory Barbarigo School.

According to the CharacterStrong, of Puyallup, WA, website: it provides research-based Pre-K through 12th grade social and emotional learning curricula and professional learning services that positively impact lives.

“Our curriculum and professional learning are grounded in research and focused on fostering the Whole Child with vertically-aligned lessons that teach Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and character, side-by-side.

“Character education involves developing thoughtful, healthy and kind human beings. Our character is informed by our personal values and choices.

“SEL competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.”

“We are hoping that we will see a generational change in our area as we embed this curriculum and give students the tools of growing and developing their social emotional learning in our communities and schools,” Mosaic Community Relations Manager Kelsi Meyer said. “We fully believe that this will strengthen our Northwest region as a whole.”

Every school in the area was offered the program. The program is made for plug-and-play for the instruction. An introductory meeting for school administrators and counselors was held February 27 at Mosaic. Leading the meeting were Tammy Graham and Kali Newcomer, Stanberry principal and counselor respectively. This elementary is in the fourth year of CharacterStrong.

An online professional development will be held Monday, March 13. This is when access to the program becomes available for the schools. The program will start officially with a Tuesday, August 15, a professional development day for all of the schools’ staff.

Mosaic held community health needs assessments where youth mental health was an overall concern. It was reported there has been an uptick in needs and services.

CharacterStrong will be provided free to the participating schools.

Success of the program depends on training the teachers who will implement the program. Stanberry’s staff said there needs to be two different people in charge of the program for each school, a managerial position and a passionate person. They suggested the schools work with the buy-ins first and then work with the naysayers. The school counselor will do a 20-minute session with each class each week. There are also communications on the website to send home to parents.

When there is a need at the school, a lesson can be inserted. The curriculum can be adjusted as school needs arise. Not only teachers, students and administration need to buy into CharacterStrong but Stanberry recommends getting the paraprofessionals involved. If a substitute is needed, the para can do the CharacterStrong lesson.

The school has a dedicated 15 minute slot at the beginning of each school day for the CharacterStrong lesson. On Fridays, there are exit activities which focus on connections and reflections, as well as challenging students to continue growing their character beyond the classroom. These activities create rituals and routines around the end of the day building a positive classroom culture.