Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Ecological Approaches to Mental Health Consultation with Teachers on Issues Relates to Youth and School Violence

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Ecological Approaches to Mental Health Consultation with Teachers on Issues Relates to Youth and School Violence

Article excerpt

This article argues that ecological issues are at the core of concerns about the violence LI.S. students, particularly those in low-income urban communities, are exposed to or experience within or outside of school. Consequently, it suggests that ecological systems theory-based mental health consultation for teachers should be an essential component of school violence prevention services. Further, it outlines a broad framework for generating teacher- and school-based interventions based on empirical data from the youth and school violence literatures, ecological systems theory, and consultee-centered consultation models.

It lies within our reach, before the end of the twentieth century, to change the future of disadvantaged children. The children who today are at risk of growing into unskilled, uneducated adults, unable to help their own children to realize the American dream, can, instead, become productive participants in a twentyfirst century America whose aspirations they will share. The cycle of disadvantage that has appeared so intractable can be broken. (Schorr, 1988).

Almost every child in my class knows someone who was murdered or shot. I know it gets to them and they can't always think about the lesson or school-but it's hard for me to think about lessons too. I know that most of my kids are on the streets after school and they don't have any place to go and I'm afraid that some of them might get shot or beat up. Some of the kids come in and talk about walking to school by the boarded-up houses and I think. . ."thank God they made it to school today." (a third-grade teacher, from an interview with the authors, January 1994)

Such contrasting images of hope and despair have haunted many teachers working in American schools in the past few decades. Increasingly, problems related to issues such as child maltreatment, poverty, racism, and family and community violence tend to be systemic and overwhelming in some school settings. Additionally, many of the teachers in these schools are themselves experiencing problems similar to those of their students. Often, these adults neither confide nor consult with their fellow professionals about the violent experiences they and their students share or witness within and outside the school setting. Instead, their intense and profound feelings of hopelessness, frustration, isolation, and anger focus on their students and the problems these youth bring to school. Compounding this situation, most school-based initiatives aimed at eliminating or reducing the incidence and impact of youth and school violence are primarily directed toward students, implemented by nonteaching professionals from outside the school, and not part of the daily functioning of teachers or the school. As such, they often fail to recognize that teachers, principals, and other school personnel must address issues of violence in ongoing, intimate, and complex ways that are frequently overlooked in curricular packages, programs, or auditorium events aimed at addressing this issue.

Our experiences in mental health consultation practice with teachers and other educational professionals in schools plagued by violence have led us to believe that an expanded and refocused conceptual framework is needed to help educators develop a comprehensive and school-linked approach to violence prevention. Thus, this article offers a framework that will enable educational and psychological consultants to more clearly conceptualize the environmental and community context of youth and school violence: ecological developmental theory. We posit that the mental heath consultants must have a thorough understanding of the ecological context in which youth and school violence occurs. Further, by blending the empirical literature on youth and school violence with teacher-centered case consultation (Caplan & Caplan, 1993) and ecological developmental theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979), consultation services can be reframed to address the needs of teachers, other school-based professionals, and students in educational settings affected by violence. …

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