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Gun safety and mental health concerns have been at battle for many years and have currently escalated with the rise in school shootings across the country. Research about what schools have done to prevent such travesties are interesting to note. Are zero tolerance policies really effective? Or do these issues stem beyond the trigger? Student and teacher protestors can be seen outside state capital and national buildings urging lawmakers to make changes to the policies regarding state and national gun laws while others hold signs regarding mental health policies and initiatives in America. In either case, pleads for change are heard across the country, promises are made and history repeats itself. This study looks into the growing concerns of addressing mental health in schools and the effects that could take place if done with fidelity. This research study will explore multiple perspectives by collecting qualitative data from various school personnel, (teachers, and counselors), and students from various campuses in an urban community. It will explore the initiatives and policies that are implemented in the school year and examine the beliefs held by participants on how or if these policies will deter those with ideations.
A look at whether campuses are taking other mental health measures in addition to the “zero tolerance” policy are variables that may alter data. Whether gun safety or mental health concerns are at the forefront of their plan may determine the approach that campuses administrators and policy makers will take. There is growing evidence in recent years about the Importance of implementation of mental health promotion initiatives in schools. Askell- Williams, H., Dix, K., Lawson, M., and Slee, P., (2013), provide sound evidence on the “changes over time in students’ social and emotional competencies.” In their two year quantitative study, they concluded that using KidsMatter, a social-ecological approach that recognizes parenting, family and school environments, and the psychological world that plays on the development of a child’s positive mental health, contributes to the convincing evidence that stakeholders need in order to make changes to the district policies.
How it works
This study will be qualitative in design to explore multiple perspectives, to develop themes, and to make general conclusions about those themes. It will follow the research design developed by Goodman-Scott, E., & Grothaus, T. (2018). In their study, a phenomenological investigation on the perceptions of school counselors employing Recognized ASCA Model Program, (RAMP), and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, (PBIS), with high fidelity. Using this research design will add knowledge to the existing literature.
For this study, a team consisting of two researchers, twenty-four teachers, twenty-four students and nine counselors will work together over the course of a year to provide information on the effectiveness of mental health services in schools. The researchers’ role this study is to collect data from each of the participating campus’ focus groups periodically to analyze the data and similar ideas and themes at various points throughout the year. The three focus groups will consist of teachers, one from each participating campus.
At each of the participating campuses, there will be one focus group of eight middle school teachers, (a representative same of the school); one focus group of eight student participants, (a representative sample from the campus), and one focus group of three counselors. In addition, there will be opportunity for anonymous individual interviews. Administration will agree to be a participating campus and to allow for students and teachers to participate anonymously without repercussion.
They will provide information via an opened ended questionnaire to the researcher prior to implementing mental health services. Three focus groups, one from each campus, will consist of eight students each. Each focus group will meet quarterly throughout the school year. Campus counselors will meet and hold their own focus groups in a similar fashion to the students and teachers. Researcher will collect data and keep all participants names anonymous. Additional individual interviews will be collected upon a voluntary anonymous basis.
Focus groups and individual interview participants completed questionnaires to report the quality of mental health before, during and at the end of the school year. Questionnaires also collected demographic information. Ethical approval will be requested from the Institutional Review Board at Texas A & M International University. Focus groups took place at the respective campuses and lasted sixty to ninety minutes. Two research assistants will moderate the focus groups for member checking. Recording and transcription of each focus group and session will be implemented with participants consenting to the study procedures. Researchers will use thematic analysis to develop description and themes of the qualitative study.
Psycho-education programs in schools are delivered primarily through the school counselor. In schools across the state, many school counselors each have numbers in the hundreds. With the growing number of assigned tasks, it is no wonder why some have failed to address every single student’s mental health issues. In a recent study by Breslin, G., Hughey, T., Donnelly, P., Kearny, C., and Prentice, G., (2017), the study’s aim was to increase the knowledge of mental health for school personnel, such as coaches, and to offer help to those with mental health issues. The quantitative study used pre- and post questionnaires and found that psycho-education programs such as the one used by Breslin et. al. (2017), increased the knowledge and intentions to offer support. By utilizing school teachers and coaches in a psycho-education program, mental health awareness can increase and one can argue that student social-emotional needs can be meet and addressed. In a related study by Moon, J., Williford, A., and Mendenhall, A., (2017), 93% of participants, which included teachers and administrators, reported having high levels of concerns for students mental health needs. In addition, this study reported 85% of the participants stated there was a need for additional mental health training. Neance, W., & Munoz, M. (2012), report Second Step as another program in which overall attendance and mental health can be improved. Second Step, social-emotional learning program is one that could be implemented in our population as part of our study.
Currently, Positive Behavior Intervention Systems, (PBIS), is a popular framework taken up by many school districts. A qualitative study by Goodman-Scott sought to fill gaps in the literature about the process and outcomes of PBIS and the role of school counselors within the PBIS framework. The study concluded with five positive emerging themes two of which consisted of building community and integrating school counselors as part of the initiative. This is important for our current study in which similar populations are used and PBIS is already being implemented in the district. Questions about fidelity and dosage could be addressed in our study that have not been done before.
This allows for students to feel that they are in a safer, caring environment. When students and teachers feel safe, one could argue that the environment is more conducive to learning. The stress is lessened and students and teachers can find their roles more rewarding. This study will provide the convincing data that having mental health initiatives is warranted. Leuschner, V., Fiedler, N., Schultze, M., Ahlig, N., Gobel, K., Sommer, F,. And Sheithauer, H., (2017), conducted a quantitative study in which prevention of violence by addressing psychosocial crisis using the Networks Against School Shootings Program, (NETWASS). In their study, they found an increase in confidence in “the school’s organizational structure, improved teacher student interaction, school staff cohesion and feelings of safety” (Lesusschner et.al 2017). There was also evidence to support and improvement in school staff abilities to identify and assist students experiencing a crisis. The literature states that acknowledging students in crisis could address ideations of targeted school violence.
The need to build positive relationships in schools is crucial for all involved- students and teachers. Johnson, S., Burke, J., and Gielen, A. (2012), focus on a mixed-methods study, was the school environment. Two student groups provided qualitative data to support the school environment to support school violence. This study adds to the literature in that policy makers could address these issues to make changes to the school environment. It was noted in the study that a positive relationship between students and school police was a need for this campus in particular. Limitations to this study include the small number of participants from one campus. A study addressing other schools in various neighborhoods is a need and one that our study can address to add to the literature.
Making, E. F., and Koblinsky, S. A. (2013) acknowledge a population in the schools that often go unaddressed- teachers. In their study, Maring and Koblinsky question challenges faced by middle school teachers who work in violent communities. A look into how teachers coped with violence issues in their classrooms and what would help them address or respond more effectively to students affected by violence. This qualitative study reported that teachers had coping strategies at individual, family, school and community levels, some of which had employed avoidant strategies which negatively impacted the school as a whole.
There is growing literature on preventing school violence. At a time when many schools employed police officers, security guards, cameras, metal detectors and other similar measures to deter school violence, many are now questioning whether those initiatives are positively correlated with the growing number of violence in schools. Crawford, C., and Burns R. (2015) assess the “crime reduction and safety procedures of schools’ in their quantitative research. It reported a significant increase in serious violence in high schools and other grade levels, (middle school, elementary and combined). The literature supports the idea that adding security measures alone does not secure or directly correlate with a drop in violence or bullying in schools. Therefore, in our study, we will examine security measures along with implementation of mental health initiatives and assess the findings to add to the literature.
In a related study which investigated principals’ attitudes regarding zero-tolerance policies and suspension rates, Heilbrun, A., Cornell, D., and Lovegrove, P. (2015) discovered that with zero-tolerance policies, there is an increase in drop out rates. This is in line with other literature which reports similar findings. The study also found that suspension rates are associated with high juvenile crime. In most of those cases, the student suffered from a mental health issue. Therefore, this study shows that other measures must be taken to address behavior and mental health issues to avoid drastic numbers in suspension, drop out and crime outside of the school setting.
In line with school related issues, a 2016 study by Puhl, R., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Bryn, A., Smh, Y., and Wakefield, D., address policy actions for weight-based bullying and eating disorders. This is especially important as television and media seem to use these issues for comedic purposes in order to boost ratings. It is evident that while this is not the only form of bullying, it is one that can easily stem into multiple forms such as cyber and emotional/verbal bullying. This quantitative study took educators perspectives into account for support for potential policy actions (Puhl et. al. 2016). The study showed that 25% of the participants reported history of bullied. In it, it also showed support for a school-based health curriculum, anti bullying policies, and staff training among others. Our study will use this data and take into account how this is provided in the schools under study. This literature by Puhl et. al. 2016 supports our hypothesis that mental health programs are needed in the schools.
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