May is Mental Health Awareness Month! In this newsletter we’re highlighting strategies and resources for supporting students with mental health needs through Career Technical Education (CTE). We hope you can use this information to inform conversations in your schools and districts about ways to better support all students in meeting their post-school goals.
Career Technical Education and Mental Wellness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one in three high school students “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019,” an increase of 40% since 2009 (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019). This includes students receiving special education services in the category of EBD, students with 504 plans, and students experiencing depression and anxiety. These students often feel disconnected and a lack of relevancy in the classes they are taking. Participation in Career Technical Education (CTE) is an excellent strategy to address these issues.
The task of reinvigorating students’ interest in school begins with developing personal post-school goals and career planning. Career planning includes a transition plan in the IEP and a High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) that captures the student’s strengths, preferences, interests, and needs.
From the information gathered for the transition plan and the HSBP, CTE classes can be selected. This allows careful and deliberate planning for students’ courses of study. Participating in CTE courses offers opportunities for students to expand their social network through relationships with peers and adults in work and community settings. These relationships provide students opportunities to strengthen their social skills, particularly when faced with difficult situations.
Supports and Accommodations
Students with emotional and behavioral challenges may need specific accommodations to support their participation in CTE classes. Begin by reviewing your students’ IEPs. Once familiar with the IEPs, it is important to talk with your students about their needs and how best to support them in the classroom. In addition to attending IEP meetings, you can support your students by encouraging them to actively participate in their meetings.
Class attendance may be a challenge for students with mental health needs as well, as they may have trouble focusing. This might include attention disorders, mood and thought disorders, and anxiety and depression. At the NTACT:C 2022 Capacity Building Virtual Conference earlier this month, Dr. Marsha Langer Ellison shared strategies to support students in CTE classrooms facing these challenges. They included:
- Open the lab/workshop at additional times
- Use measures of competency rather than time units
- Provide on-line coursework and give attendance credit for time spent online
- Flexible attendance policies
- Additional individual time to preview classwork
- Preferential seating (back or front)
- No participation expectations
- Accommodations for test-taking
- Providing a “safe space” to relax if anxious
- Allow breaks in class
CTE teachers can make a big difference in supporting students with mental health challenges by:
- Modifying expectations
- Praising small accomplishments
- Preparing students to adapt to new situations and environments
- Reframing negative thoughts
- Encouraging relaxation techniques
- Providing peer support
Finally, including students with disabilities and those with behavioral and emotional health challenges may motivate teachers to provide accommodations that benefit all students. With the increased mental health needs of our students, focusing on career planning, making connections, and supportive accommodations in a welcoming classroom can help them to be more engaged in school and better prepared for life outside of high school.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (N.D.) CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019. [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBSDataSummaryTrendsReport2019-508.pdf.
- Marsha Langer Ellison, PhD, (2022). Strategies to Improve Post-Secondary Outcomes of Youth with Emotional Disturbances through Transition Planning and Career and Technical Education (CTE). [PPT]. Accessed at the NTACT:C CBVI 2022.
- Wagner, M. M., Newman, L. A., & Javitz, H. S. (2017). Vocational education course taking and post–high school employment of youth with emotional disturbances. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 40(3), 132-143.
Additional Resources for Teachers and Students
- Active Minds – An organization headquartered in Washington D.C. dedicated to supporting mental health awareness for young adults ages 14-25 through education, research & advocacy.
- Bring Change to Mind – Co-founded by Glenn Close, this organization is dedicated to encouraging dialogue about mental health, and to raising awareness, understanding, and empathy.
- Jed Foundation – A nonprofit centered around strengthening emotional health of teens and young adults to prevent substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.
- Mental Health America Life on Campus – A year-round education effort for college-aged youth seeking web-based information about mental health issues. Founded in 1909, Mental Health America is a nationwide community-based organization providing education, advocacy, and services for all who need them.
- NAMI On Campus – Created as student-led and student-centered clubs, NAMI On Campus provides accessible mental health awareness for college campuses by strengthening services, supporting peers, and hosting on-campus events.
- School that Makes Cent$: Taking CTE Courses (PDF) – Student-centered handout that provides an overview of CTE.
- TEST Center – In collaboration with NTACT:C and AIR, this grant-funded project aims to increase the use and adoption of research-based best practices in transition planning services for high school students identified with EBD.
- The Trevor Project – A website with resources dedicated to suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning) young people.