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Three good letters to the editor in this morning's paper



1. St. Pete's Juliana Menke on FCAT results: As a licensed mental health counselor, I believe that one of the difficulties in finding school improvement answers lies in not asking this question: What is stopping kids from learning? One answer is probably the trauma of adverse childhood experiences.

Demographically, the listed schools struggle with high poverty. Where there is high poverty, there are high levels of adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Criminal activity, violence, substance abuse and mental illness all take a toll on a child's ability to learn.

The human body is programmed to react to emergencies with a flood of cortisol and adrenaline. Emergencies do not allow time for reflection and thoughtful consideration. The thing is, if life is a permanent emergency, that same reaction interferes with higher learning. When schools try to handle difficult behavior with punishment, referrals and expulsion, they inadvertently retrigger the emergency reaction. And things get worse.

Across our country, school districts are recognizing that most challenged schools have to shift from a punishment to a problem-solving approach in handling difficult behavior and poor classroom performance.

And improvement, while slow, is happening. San Francisco's El Dorado Elementary used trauma-informed and restorative practices, and suspensions dropped 89 percent. Wellness centers, calming corners, buddy classrooms and, above all, trauma-informed staff — from the principal to the maintenance team — can transform a child's ability to learn.

2. Largo's Larry Golbom: Unfortunately, most assessments by major publications and editorials concerning the failings of the prison systems in Florida and beyond ignore the astounding combination of drugs, alcohol and the lack of mental health care facilities.

Depending on the source for the statistics, drugs and alcohol are a factor for as many as 85 percent of inmates before entering prison.

Since the 1960s, our public leaders have systematically closed mental health care institutions. Essentially, this country has traded mental health care beds for prison beds for far too many. The mass imprisonment of people affected by substance misuse has become part of America's culture.

It's shortsighted to discuss better aftercare for the released prisoner until this country begins a broader discussion on why prisons have replaced mental health care institutions and why we lack funding for preventive and educational resources prior to entrance into the prison system.

3. St. Pete's Cynthia Hazlett: Regarding the Bartow lawyer's claim of a microchip in her head, this is one more example of why (and how desperately) we need better mental health policies.

Why wouldn't a judge order her to get mental screening? How is she allowed to take people's money to represent them in court?

Many young people are also ignored or excused when they show signs of mental problems, and we see all the school shootings that have resulted.

Please, legislators, wake up and fund (yes, with dollars) the care needed for a better mental health policy.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2014 11:01am]


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