In recent years, I’ve personally witnessed more of my students struggle to make that transition or not make it at all. It has nothing to do with a lack of technical skills, as I’ve seen them master complicated vocational concepts and tasks — graphic design, woodworking, 3D printing, and CNC programming. The struggle has everything to do with skyrocketing anxiety, depression, and trauma experienced by my students as they prepare to enter the workforce.

Our students are experiencing a mental health crisis across our state and country, and that’s something all of us can and must work to address. That’s why I’m focused on helping our general education and special education students develop job skills and strengthen their mental health while still in our hallways.

Starting about six years ago, I worked with my colleagues at Warren Woods Public Schools in Warren, Michigan, to launch a new approach to student mental health and wellness to complement our existing emphasis on pre-vocational skill development. The program, available at our district’s two high schools, includes an OT lab that combines technology-driven and traditional machines, a reset room where students can process emotions in a calming environment, and an after-school program called Scratch the Surface.

When we first launched the after-school program, it served only as an alternative to traditional disciplinary measures for students who were skipping school or getting behavior referrals in class. But nearly all of the students referred to the program voluntarily continued attending well past what was required.

Attendance has gone up and behavior referrals down to near zero for every Warren Woods-Tower High School student who has participated since the program began. At Enterprise High School, the principal of our alternative education program says the OT lab has given students a supportive outlet when they need it most since they can choose when during their school day to visit. Through the power of mindfulness, my students have learned to process their feelings in a constructive way at school. This has allowed them to refocus on developing job skills and preparing for career success.

Read the full article about prioritizing mental health in CTE programs by Michele Morgan at Chalkbeat.