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The Challenge: Keeping our Students Mentally Healthy

In 2017, Arlington Public Schools (APS) identified youth mental health as a challenge it needed to tackle. According to mentalhealth.gov, “half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14” (i.e. anxiety and eating disorders), and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24 (i.e. substance abuse).

The most recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveys at Arlington High School and the Ottoson Middle School show that mental health issues such as stress, low self-esteem, self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide contemplation/attempts are on the rise in our youth community, as is the case in many communities across the country.

How AEF Helped: Staff Training and School Plans to Support our Youth

Arlington Public Schools strive to educate students holistically so that every child has the opportunity to achieve academic, emotional, social and vocational success. Attention to students’ mental health is one of the key elements to achieving this mission.

That is why AEF is committed to awarding the district $200,000 between 2017 and 2020 to support the district’s Safe & Supportive Schools Initiative (SASS). 

As a first step, in 2017 a $100,485 AEF grant brought the Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) program to the district, allowing for over 325 Arlington Public School staff to be trained and certified. Grant funds were also used to support each school as they implemented further SASS initiatives.

The Impact: Empowering Staff and a Common Approach for Supporting Students

As of August 2019, over 325 staff – representing every school and every role from social workers to administrators – have been trained on Youth Mental Health First Aid.  Schools have also implemented plans that directly support youth behavioral health and ensure that every student has the best environment in which to learn.

“When we create a common vision, language and understanding of how to promote the mental health and well-being of our youth, support services are more focused and effective.” Sara Burd, Arlington Public Schools Director of Social & Emotional Health and Guidance

Youth Mental Health First Aid Training
During the training, which provides a basic understanding of what adolescent mental health looks like, participants learned how to:

  • intervene early and guide a student toward treatment (grades 3-12) 
  • respond to student needs through role play
  • assess risk of suicide or harm
  • help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis 
  • identify mental health signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders

Future plans are being made to accommodate more groups, such as transportation and lunch staff.

School-specific Initiatives
Schools across the district have implemented their own plans to support SASS. For example: 

  • Dallin Elementary focused on restorative discipline and Mindfulness in the curriculum.
  • Ottoson Middle School studied Jessica Minahan’s The Behavior Code.  
  • Thompson Elementary engaged Vinsion, Inc. for training.  
  • Arlington High School used grant funding to support Wellness and Inclusion Days.
  • Dallin and Ottoson consulted with Carlos Hoyt.

With AEF’s support, Arlington’s teachers and staff have the tools they need to identify and support all students’ social, emotional health and well-being.


Thermal Imaging

Through the use of thermal imaging adapters, 8th graders at Ottoson Middle School visualize heat as well as observe the flow of thermal energy in a fun and engaging way.

“The thermal imaging cameras are a big hit with the students and really bring the curriculum to life. The technology is so fun and visually compelling that sometimes students have a hard time sharing with their science partners.”

Susan Stewart, Ottoson Middle School, 8th Grade Science

The Challenge:  Visualizing Intangible Scientific Concepts

How do you teach students intangible scientific concepts?  Though many scientific concepts can be taught through hands-on experimentation, the topics of thermal imaging and heat transfer are more challenging.  Historically, this has been a challenging unit for students, as the flow of thermal energy is not directly visible, but rather must be evaluated by indirect means with a slow and limited technology (primarily measuring with thermometers). The concepts are not as tangible as in other units, making it difficult for students to explore and observe the processes independently.

How AEF Helped:  Bringing Thermal Imaging to Life

What if students could observe and experiment with heat transfer through hands-on experimentation just like electricity or physics?  What if students were so engaged that they forgot they were learning? Through an Innovations in Education grant, 8th graders at Ottoson Middle School turn daily technology devices like iPads and cell phones into thermal imaging observation tools.  With the purchase of a set of thermal imaging adapters, the devices display thermal images using a free, manufacturer-developed app.

Students are now able to visualize heat sinks, heat sources and observe the flow of thermal energy in real time in a medium that is compelling and accessible.

Impact:  Engaging, Hands-On Learning

This technology allows the 8th grade Science teachers to expand and enrich the current curriculum and allow more independent, inquiry-based activities to complement traditional instruction. Students are able to observe and experiment with heat transfer through conduction, convection and radiation, and are able to observe good conductors and good insulators during lab activities.

Students get first-hand knowledge of thermal energy by observing every-day classroom objects such as lights (radiation), handprints (heat transfer), metal wires (conduction), hands under fabric (insulation) and even heating pipes through a wall.

The cameras are also used during the insulator device design challenge to identify whether the student devices are working as good insulators as well as whether heat leakage is occurring.


This district-wide grant will train over 300 Arlington Public Schools staff on Youth Mental Health First Aid, a program designed to teach anyone interfacing with youth how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis.

“When we create a common vision, language and understanding of how to promote the mental health and well-being of our youth, support services are more focused and effective.”

Sara Burd, Arlington Public Schools Director of Social & Emotional Health and Guidance

The Challenge: Keeping our Students Mentally Healthy

Our students’ mental health is critically important because it helps determine how they handle stress, relate to others and make choices. According to mentalhealth.gov, “half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14” (i.e. anxiety and eating disorders), and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24 (i.e. substance abuse).

Recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveys at Arlington High School and the Ottoson Middle School show that mental health issues such as stress, low self-esteem, self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide contemplation/attempts are on the rise in our youth community.

How AEF Helped: Staff Training to Support our Youth

The Arlington Public Schools’ mission is to educate students holistically so that every child has the opportunity to achieve academic, emotional, social and vocational success. Attention to students’ mental health is one of the key elements to achieving this mission and is part of the district’s Safe & Supportive Schools Initiative.

AEF understands the relationship between behavioral health and school success, and committed to awarding the district $200,000 between 2017 and 2020 to support the district’s initiative.

As a first step, in 2017 a $100,485 AEF grant brought the Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) program to the district.

The Impact: Supporting Students, Reducing Referrals, Keeping Students in Class

By January 2019, over 300 staff – representing every school and every role from social workers to administrators – will have been trained on Youth Mental Health First Aid.

Youth Mental Health First Aid demystifies and de-stigmatizes youth mental health challenges and provides a basic understanding of what adolescent mental health looks like. During the training, participants gain confidence through role-play; responding to student needs by offering appropriate reassurance and guidance and obtaining skills in assessing risk of suicide or harm.

The program teaches how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis. Discussion includes mental health signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.

For staff working with grades three through twelve, the training covers types of support from early intervention to guiding a student toward treatment. With AEF’s support, Arlington’s teachers have the tools they need to support all students, reduce referrals and keep more students in the classroom.