SEAL Team: Prioritizing Mental Health in School
Warren Street Elementary School Psychologist, Dr. Chad Swanson was designated as the Coordinator for the District’s SEAL Team (Social, Emotional and Academic Learning) in 2022, as part of the District’s efforts to bolster the department’s profile, and reinforce its critical role in the GJSD community.
The SEAL Team currently includes three school psychologists (one in each current building), two behavioral specialists (one in each elementary building), four school counselors (one for elementary, one for junior high, and two for senior high), and two social workers (district-wide).
Additionally, the District contracts with the Family Counseling Center in Gloversville to provide a student support counselor and community outreach specialist at the high school.
Each SEAL Team member’s work is different, but collectively, Swanson describes the team’s mission as a cohesive effort to help students develop positive relationships in their school community and at home, so that they can excel in their academics.
“When students are happy and regulated, their brains are wired up for learning,” he said. “With the proper skills in place, students are able to focus in class and be successful both academically and socially.”
With students in grades 5-7 attending Knox Middle School next year, the District has plans to expand the SEAL Team through federal ARP funding, with the addition of another psychologist for Knox, a school counselor for Pleasant Avenue, and a social worker for the high school. The expansion means that resources no longer need to be shared between buildings, which helps team members avoid being stretched too thin and taking on caseloads that are too heavy.
“The expansion and prioritization of mental health services for next year shows the District’s commitment to the overall well-being of each and every student at Johnstown,” Dr. Swanson said. “Having a team specific to each building will enable staff to have more one-on-one time with students so they can better assess ways to help them.”
The District utilizes a multi-tiered system for social and emotional supports, with all students learning important curriculum like socialization, conflict resolution, regulating feelings and verbalizing emotions, starting in pre-K. Within each grade level, Swanson says that about 20% of them need more intensive and ongoing supports to keep up with their peers, or to help navigate specific stressors they may encounter.
“There has always been a need for social and emotional learning, but just like every other school, we found that after the pandemic, that need grew exponentially,” Swanson said.
“Sadly, many students had increased exposure to toxic stress, and traumatic experiences like domestic violence and abuse during that time. For some students, school is their only safe haven where they can escape some of those stressors. Schools can’t solve all of these problems, but with Johnstown’s continued investment in social and emotional learning resources, we’re doing the best we can within the walls of the school building.”