News & Perspectives

Build School Communities and Support Students’ Social, Emotional, and Mental Health


The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund provides substantial funding to support the reopening of schools and to address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health concerns that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As students and staff return to in-person learning this fall, the US Department of Education has prioritized social emotional learning (SEL) for students as a basis for accelerating learning and mitigating learning loss.

This call to action requires school-based leaders to have an established plan for addressing the social, emotional, and mental health well-being of students.

It is important to review district and state responses to the utilization of ESSER funds in depth. This quick-guide serves as a snapshot of how states across the country can respond to Landmark 2 and how school-based administrators can put these commitments into action. Download your own copy of the quick-guide here!

Building School Communities and Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Priorities

  • Assess social, emotional, and mental health needs of students and staff.
    • Action Strategies:
      • Identify existing tools approved by the district and their availability within the schoolhouse to assess social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.
          • Utilize the CASEL District Resource Center tool[1] to learn how other districts around the country have prioritized social emotional learning.
          • Consider utilizing free or low-cost screeners to identify students requiring more extensive evaluations quickly and efficiently and/or supports, if necessary.

      • Utilize an online database to store and synthesize social emotional screener and assessment results.
        • Explore the use of EDPlan Intervene to systematically identify and program for students requiring social, emotional, or mental health support.

  • Invest in effective strategies to address social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.
    • Action Strategies:
      • Assess staff capacity to provide increased access for students to school counselors and mental health professionals.
        1. Partner with fellow school-based administrators to reassess the workload of school counselors and mental health professionals with the goal of prioritizing opportunities for student-focused interventions.
        2. Develop a master schedule that eliminates administrative responsibilities (e.g., bus duty, covering the cafeteria, etc.) of school counselors and mental health professionals.
        3. Determine if family engagement responsibilities, typically within the scope of school counselors and mental health professionals, can be extended to Family Engagement or Title I Specialists.
        4. Identify opportunities for school counselors and mental health professionals in graduate programs to provide services under the supervision of licensed professionals (contingent upon district regulations).
      • Evaluate your school’s current social, emotional, and mental health practices.
        1. Partner with district-level leadership to review existing resources and district framework for SEL practices. If resource gaps exist between framework guidance and implementation, consider the use of ARP ESSER funds to supplement those existing needs.
        2. Utilize the “Where to Start: CASEL School Guide”[1] to determine indicators for schoolwide SEL practices and to complete the “needs inventory.”

  • Ensure restorative, equitable, and inclusive approaches to school discipline.
    • Action Strategies:

      1. Connect with district- and state-level leadership to identify which new discipline practices will be implemented, and the subsequent training opportunities that will be implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
      2. Familiarize school-based leadership and behavior response teams to restorative practices.
      3. Determine, in partnership with district-level leadership, how to implement trauma-informed and restorative[1] discipline in your buildings.

  • Provide extracurricular opportunities to build school community and advance academic and emotional development of students.
    • Action Strategies:

      1. Discuss with district leadership to determine what extracurricular opportunities are being funded with ARP ESSER funds.
      2. Identify if additional funds are available to sponsor school-based educators and staff to host in-person (when appropriate) and virtual clubs after school.
      3. Partner with parent-teacher associations or other organizations to solicit donations from local companies to provide resources for students to utilize for extracurricular opportunities.


Returning full-time to in-person learning may be a stressful experience for students this fall. Moving forward, school-based leaders should continue to prioritize the social, emotional, and mental well-being of all students as the foundation for accelerating learning. Students will be most readily available for learning when their social and emotional needs are being met. School-based leaders can utilize this tool to create a plan for addressing the priorities outlined by Landmark 2 in the “Return to School Roadmap.” Download the guide here.

How PCG Can Support Your District During this Unprecedented Time

COVID-19 has created significant challenges for school districts across the country. PCG is always looking for ways to support districts and students.

Special Education Research, Action Planning, and Facilitation. Subject matter experts and consultants can research best practices, inventory resources, guide action planning, and facilitate the development of digital learning instructional continuity plans to help you address emergency situations that result in interrupted education for students with disabilities.

Virtual Instruction Toolkit. This toolkit contains a library of tools and resources to help educators establish Online and Distance Learning instructional models based on best practices.

Virtual Staffing Solutions. PCG provides trained professionals to augment staffing needs and support your efforts to deliver continuity of instruction and services during this emergency period using your available digital learning solutions or by providing PCG’s EDPlan™ suite of tools.

Behavioral Threat Assessment. Our behavioral threat assessments (BTA) are a proven method of early intervention that can help prevent acts of targeted violence in school environments. Our platform manages all threats, such as behavioral threats, suicide risk, sexual threats, and fire-setting incidents. We manage your risks through EDPlan’s case management platform, used by 3,600 school districts across the United States.

Suicide Risk Assessment. Our newly released suicide risk assessment pathway allows school districts to implement a standardized procedure to assess a student’s suicide risk. Using this tool, staff are able to use the same language, which is understood by all, to discuss a student’s status, and make plans for appropriate care.

Professional Development. Our subject matter experts can provide much-needed guidance, training, and support to help you establish or enhance your school safety framework, in order to implement integrated, evidenced-based practices for behavioral threat assessments, suicide risk assessments, sexual threats, and fire-setting incidents.

About the Author

Mauria Uhlik, Ed.D., joined PCG in June 2021 as a Senior Advisor. Prior to her tenure at PCG she served in a variety of roles including Director of Evaluation Early Stages in DC Public Schools, Adjunct Professor at Towson and Johns Hopkins University, and Educational Specialist in the Division of Special Education and Early Intervention at Maryland State Department of Education. In January 2015, Dr. Uhlik began her doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management with a Special Education Leadership Concentration at Drexel University School of Education. She was selected as one of 10 doctoral candidates to participate in the Urban Special Education Leaders for Tomorrow Project (USELT), a 5-year OSEP funded Special Education Leadership Personnel Training Grant. She successfully defended her dissertation in May 2019. Most recently, Dr. Uhlik had the opportunity to serve as special educator throughout the COVID-19 pandemic