Why Mental Health Education Belongs in Public Schools
February 2020


On February 15, 2020, Dr. Rui Dionisio, Superintendent of Schools, and Mr. Frank Mauriello, Director of Special Services recently represented the Verona Public Schools District at the AASA National Conference on Education (NCE). The presentation entitled, Why Mental Health Education Belongs in Public Schools, is a culmination of the collective work of the Verona community through action committees formed in the wake of a student death by suicide in 2016. Community action committees, dedicated to examining Mental Health & Suicide Prevention and Student Code of Conduct & Respect, helped guide the recommendations to improve programs and services for Verona students. In 2018, Dr. Dionisio led an effort with committee and Board support to increase the annual tax levy by $550,000 to fund new mental health programming in a taxpayer approved ballot question.

Emotions drive how students learn. Enhancing mental health programming supports student social emotional development, a key component of educating the whole child. Schools can greatly benefit from offering clinical services to support students and provide academic, social, and co-curricular opportunities. However, management and education of students requires specialized expertise not evidenced in most public schools. The conference presentation by Dr. Dionisio and Mr. Mauriello addressed how students with emotional/behavioral issues are supported with highly enhanced educational experiences providing daily group therapy, weekly individual counseling, family therapy, dedicated study skills, supported lunch, evening parent psycho-social support programs, and immediate level-of care evaluations required in context of school guidelines for assessment of suicidality/homicidality. The slide presentation may be accessed by clicking the following link.

In 2019, the Verona Public Schools partnered with Kate Fagan, the author of What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen. Dr. Dionisio and Mr. Mauriello participated on a mental health leadership panel at the Annual Mental Health Summit discussing best practice strategies that work, community stakeholder engagement, and leveraging financial resources to effectively address our most important goal in education today. The Verona Public School district was recognized as a National District of Distinction in 2019 for its transformative community partnership and efforts on “Why Mental Health Matters,” in which community action teams focused on mental health and suicide prevention using a full range of shared educational programs, therapeutic mental health services, and communication resources to support social-emotional learning through a commitment to overall health and wellness.

Learn more about the Verona Public Schools by reading stories on the amazing people, programs, and community by clicking the following link: Verona Public Schools Magazine 2019