ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- In the wake of the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's College of Education has been given a critical mission.
The college has been charged with teaching faculty and staff throughout Florida's public schools to recognize and help students with emotional and mental health issues.
The grant from the Florida Department of Education establishes the Youth Mental Health Awareness and Training Administration Project. It's part of a larger legislative initiative developed from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
USF St. Petersburg will work with the Florida Department of Education to provide training to help school personnel around the state identify and understand the signs of emotional distress, mental health difficulties and substance abuse disorders.
The program, which launches this school year, will also provide teachers and other school staff the skills necessary to help students who are experiencing a crisis or mental health difficulties by connecting them with resources.
"For decades, the issue of mental health in schools has been on a back burner," said Jordan Knab, principal investigator for USF St. Petersburg's College of Education. "People aren't always willing to talk about mental health issues."
The College of Education was selected to receive the grant in large part due to the university's experience with developing a network for student mental health services, Knab said. The new initiative is based on the Multiagency Service Network for Students with Severe Emotional Disturbance Administration Project, which is housed at USF St. Petersburg.
"We have a record of successful collaborative partnerships and educational projects with the Department of Education," Knab added.
Nickie Zenn, who has been serving as the statewide program director for SEDNET, will oversee the new YMHAT training program, which she called a "CPR course for mental health."
Zenn said her hope is that the training will help school faculty recognize students who are experiencing a mental health crisis that may lead them to hurting themselves or others as well as provide more mental health resources for students.