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Evidence-Based Guidance for How Schools Can Respond to A National Mental Health Crisis in the Wake of COVID-19

June 5, 2020  Archived Virtual Conference



A tumultuous academic year is quickly coming to a close, but the educational challenge is just beginning. It is likely that, as with Hurricane Katrina, there will be a continuing rise in the prevalence of mental health challenges for at least two years after the health crisis is brought under control. This is because families directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19 will likely experience multiple years of increasing personal and economic losses and instability.

This virtual conference brings together researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to provide evidence-based guidance for the role that schools can play as the primary social institution responsible for influencing the well-being of children and youth during this national crisis.

Attention to the role of schools in stemming the coming rise in educational inequality will be threaded through from the opening to the closing session. Schools are facing the layering of three racial and ethnic inequalities in children’s exposure to traumatic stress:

  1. Before the traumatic event, racial and ethnic minority children were already coping with higher levels of toxic stress and trauma.

  2. The traumatic event has disproportionately harmed racial and ethnic minority children.

  3. After the traumatic event, racial and ethnic minority children will exhibit higher levels of dysregulation and receive fewer coping supports.


The conference will focus on high-frequency questions for which existing research and effective practices can provide evidence-based guidance. Each panelist will be providing a brief, which summarizes their guidance so that conference participants will have a resource to keep with them as they go into the summer planning months.


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9:15AM: OPENING SESSION             (10:00AM EST; 7:00AM PST)
Opening Session: The Importance of Centering Psychological and Emotional Trauma in Planning for the Coming Academic Year
Panelists will discuss the roles of psychological and emotional factors in school functioning, and how attending to trauma among students and staff is a core academic issue that will facilitate a successful return to school. Panelists will also provide guidance for ways of mounting a sustainable whole-school response.   View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists
Monique Redeaux-Smith

Chicago Public School teacher on leave at the Illinois Federation of Teachers as a Union Professional Issues Director. Learn more>>>

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Director of Strategic Partnerships at Hemera Foundation. She previously worked as Early Childhood Mental Health Director advancing early childhood mental health policy and practice at the Colorado Office of Early Childhood.  Learn more>>>

Conference Brief

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Cassandra R. Davis

Research Assistant Professor in Dept. of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina. She is examining the impacts of hurricanes on public schools in Texas and North Carolina. Learn more>>>

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Tanetha J. Grosland

Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of South Florida. She examines pedagogical and emotional responses to educational policy. Learn more>>>


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Stacy Overstreet

Professor in the Dept. of Psychology at Tulane University. She is a founding member of the New Orleans Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Collaborative. Learn more>>>


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10:45AM: MORNING CONCURRENT SESSIONS             (11:45AM EST; 8:45AM PST) 
Session 1: Frameworks for Thinking About the Prioritization of Social and Emotional Learning and Mental Health for Academic Gains 
Panelists will provide guidance regarding the role of social and emotional learning in assisting students in their return to a structured learning environment, and helping them cope with academic stressors while also coping with increased life stressors. They will also discuss how it can advance the teaching core academic content.     View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists

Public editor of the Education Writers Association. Learn more>>>

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Director of Social-Emotional Learning at Urban Assembly. He previously served as the Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator for District 75 in New York City. Learn more>>>

Conference Brief

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Cathleen Beachboard

8th grade English teacher and department chair. She has served for over a decade as an instructional coach, professional resource developer, and teacher. Learn more>>>

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Margaret Beale Spencer

Professor in Dept. of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She examines resiliency, identity, and competence formation processes. 

Learn more>>>


Mathew Portell

Principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary, an internationally recognized innovative model school for trauma-informed practices in Metro Nashville Public Schools. 

Learn more>>>

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Session 2: Utilization of Discipline and Behavioral Data to Identify Students in Need of Additional Supports
Panelists will discuss how teachers, behavioral staff, and administrators can play a more supportive and proactive role when they can identify student, grade-level, and school-wide patterns of behavioral and discipline incidents. They will also discuss how to think about utilizing discipline and behavioral challenges as insight into students’ developmental needs.   View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists

Senior reporter for HuffPost. Learn more>>>

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Research Assistant Professor in the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. She examines interventions and solutions that build teacher skills to reduce reliance on exclusionary discipline. Learn more>>>

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Special education teacher. Her website, The Trauma Informed Teacher, focuses on the importance of forming a trusting, healthy relationship with students using trauma-informed methods. Learn more>>>

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Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Kentucky. He is focused on examining children of color's relative lack of access to and use of effective mental health interventions. Learn more>>>

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Akisha Osei Sarfo

Research Assistant Professor in the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. She examines interventions and solutions that build teacher skills to reduce reliance on exclusionary discipline. Learn more>>>

Session 3: COVID-19 Related Traumatic Stress Screening, and Managing Traumatic Stress Response Behaviors In the Classroom
This panel is based on research demonstrating that after traumatic events children show decreased self-regulation and increased reactive aggression. Panelists will provide guidance for how schools and educators can be proactive in identifying students who may be in distress, prepare for these changes in student behavior, and provide developmentally supportive responses while maintaining classroom management. 
 View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists

Education reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Learn more>>>

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Professor in Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. She focuses on implementing evidence-informed practices that integrate health and learning. Learn more>>>

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Associate Professor in the College of Education at University of Illinois - Chicago. Her research aims to create culturally and developmentally appropriate school-based behavior promotion programs. Learn more>>>

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Behavioral Health Specialist, CPS - Office of SEL. She teaches that there is no such thing as a bad kid, but rather a need and opportunity to teach new behaviors. Learn more>>>

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Assistant Instructional Professor in the School of Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She is also a clinician and focuses on relational attachment in youth and families. Learn more>>>

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Lunchtime Twitter Town Hall
...join us on twitter for a collective discussion using #TREPtownhall follow @TREPProject 


What is the role of educators and schools in supporting youth to transform institutions that maintain structural racism? 

Discussion facilitated by Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom   @AhlstromAlicia   and others.

Session 4: Education Rights Issues Associated with COVID-19 Related Fall Grade Retention, Remedial Class Assignment, and Standardized Testing
Panelists will examine what is known about the costs and benefits of various options associated with the testing, grade retention, and remedial class assignment decisions that school districts and schools will need to make. Panelists will also discuss the critical educational rights implications of various policies and practices.  View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists

National reporter for Chalkbeat.  Learn more>>>

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Director of the UChicago Consortium. She works with policymakers, 

practitioners, and researchers to bridge research and practice, and the development of research-practice partnerships. Learn more>>>

Conference Brief

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Assistant Professor on the Dept. of Culture, Language, and Leadership at the University of North Georgia. His research focuses on the impact of privatization and marketization of public education. Learn more>>>

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Senior Counsel at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. She works to protect and promote education access for historically disadvantaged communities. Learn more>>>

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Director of Government Affairs for the Southern Education Foundation. He has led the creation of SEF’s policy positions statement and is focused on extending SEF’s legislative footprint throughout the South. Learn more>>>

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Session 5: Practices for Educating Students Coping with a High Cognitive Stress Load
Panelists will discuss how the cognitive functioning of children coping with increased family stressors will affect academic learning, teaching practices that can place a high cognitive load on students, and how educators can adjust their teaching practices to facilitate academic learning for students coping with high levels of stress.   View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists

Western education reporter for The Hechinger Report. Learn more>>>

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Assistant Professor in the College of Education at Butler University. Her work and website, Revelations in Education, provide a plethora of neuroscience-based teaching resources.

Learn more>>>

Conference Brief

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Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of California - Irvine. Her research interests include children's reasoning, higher-order thinking, and executive functioning. Learn more>>>

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TREP Project School Coach. She has coached  schools to address challenges such as racial disproportionality in special education and exclusionary discipline, and college access. Learn more>>>

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Board-certified neurologist and former classroom teacher. She is an authority in the field of learning-centered brain research and classroom strategies derived from this research.

Learn more>>>

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Session 6: Coaching Educators in their Efforts to Support Students with Grief and Loss Processing, and Managing Anxiety and Worry in the Classroom
This panel is based on the fact that classroom teachers will be on the frontlines of helping students manage the mental health effects of COVID-19. Panelists will focus on how social and emotional and mental health staff can enable classroom teachers to feel prepared for the increased student anxiety, worry, and emotional distress.   View Session Recording Here 
Moderator                         Panelists
Kevin Mahnken

Senior writer for The 74. Learn more>>>

Jamilah Bowden

TREP Project School Coach. She is a practicing Licensed Professional Counselor and master teacher. She has worked with  survivors of many forms of violence and  violent loss.

Learn more>>>

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Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at University of Chicago Medicine. She specializes in treatment of children and adolescents exposed to traumatic experiences.

Learn more>>>

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Director of the School Social Work in the School of Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Her focus areas are special education and school-community partnerships. 

Learn more>>>

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Elementary school counselor and counseling  resource developer. She has worked for the State Department of Education and taught kindergarten. 

Learn more>>>

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2:30PM: CLOSING SESSION             (3:30PM EST; 12:30PM PST) 
Closing Session: Planning to Mitigate an Unequal Return to School
This panel will address how schools can plan for the increased educational inequality that has grown during this period of remote learning; not only in direct academic content learning, but also in the non-academic socialization and well-being factors that matter for school success. This growing inequality will be felt the most intensely in schools that serve a socioeconomically diverse student body. 
 View Session Recording Here