It’s the first day of school. A toddler wails and tears roll down his cheeks. He refuses to release his mother’s hand.
That anxiety, also felt by the mother, creates stress, which can hinder the learning process. But with assistance from an early-childhood mental-health specialist, teachers can develop classroom strategies to help ease the situation.
Across the country, 1 in 5 children entering kindergarten don’t have the adequate social and emotional skills needed to be ready for school. Those numbers increase in poverty-stricken areas like Montezuma County.
Montelores Early Childhood Council (MECC) director Vangi McCoy said the social emotional development of a child was critical to facilitating cognitive development. But when more time is required to manage student behavior, teachers have less time to focus on academics.
“Preschool teachers report an increasing number of challenging behaviors, which directly effects their ability to teach, because they are so busy with managing those behaviors,” said McCoy. “This has caused an increase in preschool expulsions.”
Persistent physical aggression, high school dropout rates, adolescent delinquency and antisocial behavior have all been associated with early-childhood conduct problems. To reverse those trends, McCoy said additional early-childhood mental-health professionals were paramount.
“Often, our teachers aren’t prepared to handle the behaviors they encounter,” said McCoy.
At a recent MECC luncheon, those in attendance gasped when learning that Axis Health Systems would no longer dispatch an early-childhood mental-health specialist into the classroom. The decision was made after the Colorado Department of Human Services altered program parameters, said Casie LaMunyon, behavioral health clinical manager at Cortez Integrated Health Care.
“We have decided that with the changes in the program requirements, we are not the best fit to offer the services,” said LaMunyon.
Meanwhile, Axis will continue to offer off-campus early-childhood counseling services to help address stress experienced by children. In addition, the MECC will continue to provide its teacher-coaching program, and the Piñon Project’s social emotional curriculum will also remain in place.
McCoy remains optimistic that the state will award a bid to resume the on-campus counseling program for the coming school year.
“I am hoping that we work out a way to continue that position, because it is so sorely needed,” said McCoy.