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Grant provides mental health training for future educators

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UNG trained 60 College of Education students with the Mental Health First Aid workshops in March thanks in part to a $6,000 State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant.

When Dr. Linda Reece saw the benefits her pre-service students received from Mental Health First Aid training in 2019 through Gainesville High School, she wanted to offer the training herself.

This spring, a $6,000 State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant and some UNG funding enabled Reece to be trained and then teach 60 students in March about spotting mental health issues in their future classrooms.

"They'll know the signs of depression, anxiety and substance abuse and how to approach a student," said Reece, associate professor of social foundations and leadership education and master faculty adviser in UNG's College of Education.

Mental health has been a rising concern for years in education. Dr. Sheri Hardee, dean of the College of Education, is grateful for Reece's initiative and passion to tackle such an important issue.

"These issues have been exacerbated since COVID-19. We are preparing our College of Education students for the future in a way we haven't before," Hardee said. "This training can be very personal. It's asked our students to be reflective, and that will make them more empathetic educators in the future."

Jim Ramirez-Ruiz, a sophomore from Lawrenceville, Georgia, pursuing a degree in middle grades education, said the workshops spread over three days have better prepared him to notice when his students are struggling.

"It opened my eyes about how to work with students and counselors," Ramirez-Ruiz said. "If we're not sure about the situation, it's better to guide the student to a counselor or medical professional who is more knowledgeable."

Alexis Byrne, a senior from Dacula, Georgia, pursuing a degree in English with teacher certification, said society is becoming more open to discuss mental health issues. She indicated the training will help UNG's future educators become part of the solution.

"A lot of people feel like they're alone, and they don't know how to ask for help. In this workshop, we're learning how to look for signs," Byrne said. "It has opened my eyes to what students may be facing."

Taylor Lyle, a sophomore from Winder, Georgia, pursuing a degree in elementary and special education, particularly appreciated the scenarios students role-played to help them better understand the material.

"We were able to perform these scenarios to get a better feel for what we should do in these instances," Lyle said. "I am thankful to know how to help."

Reece said the workshops prepared students to be "mental health first responders." Especially in the time of COVID-19, Lyle knows those skills are vital.

"More people are becoming depressed, suicidal and sad," Lyle said. "We need advocates who can make an early intervention."

The training for students fits within a larger context of UNG preparing students to be educators who provide students more than textbook knowledge. Reece and Dr. Yacine Kout, assistant professor of education, lead UNG's collaboration with Gainesville High's "The Hub" student success center that gives UNG students field experience through mentoring and tutoring.

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