After more than a year of the pandemic turning schools upside down, many children are facing unprecedented stress.
“There’s definitely been a rise in students needing additional support,” said Sally Alayon, the assistant superintendent in charge of the Miami-Dade Public Schools Department of Mental Health Services.
Now the school district is enlisting its own police force to help spot and help the kids who need professional intervention. Whether it’s anxiety or depression or something else, the modern School Resource Officer builds a rapport with dozens of students. With the proper training, they can be equipped to spot behavioral changes which may signal that a child needs professional intervention.
So Miami-Dade Schools is giving its nearly 500 Schools Police officers that training right now, the same training teachers have already received.
“Because we’re all doing different roles, but at the end of the day, we’re all there to help that child so it’s important that we’re all looking for the same behaviors, some signs that may be happening so we can identify signs immediately,” Alayon said.
NBC 6 shadowed Officer Alfred Neal, Jr., as he walked the halls of Palm Springs Middle School in Hialeah. Every kid there knows him, and he seems to know every kid. SRO’s are more than law enforcement, they are part of the education landscape.
“They’re coaches, they’re mentors, they’re guardians and they do a lot more than just traditional police services in a school setting. They serve as role models for students and they may, many times prevent and intervene when misbehavior or crime is committed,” said Chief Edwin Lopez of the Miami-Dade Schools Police.
The officers are going through mandatory training called Youth Mental Health First Aid, learning tactics including suicide prevention.
“We really do not want to use guilt or threat to prevent that possible suicide attempt,” said Lianie Cuba, the instructor from the district’s Department of Mental Health Services to the officers in a room and those watching virtually. “Try to involve the person in the decision making, you’re empowering that student because they just shared something very vulnerable with you and you want to include them on what should be done.”
School resource officers are already trained for crisis intervention. What they’re learning now is all about prevention, trying to spot the signs so they can prevent issues kids might have from turning into bigger concerns.
“And really diving in and dealing with that 6, 7, 8-year-old child that’s really displaying certain characteristics that may bubble up to certain behaviors in the future,” Lopez said.
“Where they learn to identify that a child may be having a mental health challenge or crisis, in other words, it might not just be a bad day, maybe they’re starting to see signs, they’re looking a little closer at signs that there may be a need to ensure that child is immediately referred to professional help,” said Alayon.
The district wants parents to know that if they think their child needs mental health counseling, just call your school. There are resources available on campus and agencies offering free help, even during the summer months. Don’t wait until school starts in the fall.