Michigan schools incorporate cognitive-behavioral techniques into post-pandemic education


A school district in Michigan is responding to stress from the pandemic and other disruptions to normalcy — like the devastating Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School — by introducing cognitive behavioral therapy into classrooms.

Originally pioneered by Dr. Aaron Beck, an American psychiatrist, psychopathologist, and professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, cognitive behavioral therapy encourages adaptive behavior to address underlying negative beliefs.

The goal of CBT is to teach people who over-identify with their maladaptive thoughts to reframe their perceptions more effectively and often more factually, a practice experts call “cognitive restructuring.” According to the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, an international CBT training and resource center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “the emphasis [of CBT] is also constantly solving problems and initiating behavioral changes.

Behavioral scientist Eric Clark, who helped implement the University of Michigan program called “TRAILS” (Transforming Research Into Action to Improve the Lives of Students) at Paw Paw Early Elementary, observed that thoughts and negative feelings in children have increased since school resumed, how they feel “Completely overwhelmed, they just don’t want to do it anymore.”

“I think we’re starting to see some of the effects of the last few years. The added stress of not knowing what’s next and not knowing if we’re going to go to school because we have too many cases or not knowing if another variant has arrived or not knowing if someone one still has a job,” Clark added.

Paw Paw Schools program director Corey Harbaugh noted that seeing social-emotional learning come to fruition and really flourish in schools is kind of a small-step process. “If you come to see our school, social, emotional and Paw Paw learning, we don’t serve a gourmet meal here. We’re in the kitchen, there’s flour everywhere, the eggs are cracked and you know, we have things moving and the ovens are heating up behind us. We try to understand. And we will continue. »

“TRAILS” founder Elizabeth Koschmann highlighted Harbaugh’s sighting, quoting her in a tweet along with a link to Associated Press coverage of the program. She added, “Awesome #TRAILS partners in Van Buren Co.” Her biography outlines the program’s mission to “make effective mental health services accessible to all schools.”

With COVID assistance and state funding, combined with a firm belief in academic success through the mental wellness of school officials, the program is taking off in schools across Michigan’s Van Buren Middle School District, where instructors coach each year’s students and staff to better understand the porous relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and how to channel them in adaptive and meaningful ways. There are also suicide prevention sessions and more targeted lessons for students dealing with depression, anxiety and trauma.

Nearly 700 US schools have contracted with “TRAILS” to receive support and adopt the program. According to the “TRAILS” website, approximately 90,000 students have benefited from its programming, a number that continues to grow as other TRAILS initiatives begin in Colorado and Massachusetts.


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