Sandy Hook Tragedy Spurs Local Professional Development

Image of Karyn KecherThe Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 was a wake-up call for school administrators, teachers, and staff throughout the country. With the sad reality that such horrific acts can happen anywhere, school personnel have been charged with devising safety plans to help keep their children and staff safe should they become the unfortunate target of such violence. As Dayton-area Catholic schools evaluated their emergency plans and considered additional safeguards, Karyn Hecker, Principal of Immaculate Conception School (ICS), knew what she wanted for her staff.

For the past five years, ICS has partnered with the Urban Child Development Resource Center (UCDRC), a program that is part of the Center for Catholic Education (CCE) at the University of Dayton. The primary goal of UCDRC is to establish and support a healthy learning environment in schools so that children are unencumbered by the stresses of everyday life and are able to focus and learn. UCDRC provides a clinical counselor and a family advocate to serve the ICS community. Karyn saw an opportunity to draw upon the skills and knowledge of the UCDRC staff to provide professional development for her staff by sharing information about mental illness and how it affects the classroom. 

In the Community


Image of Rhonda MercsImage of Jen KlineSeveral times between January and May 2013, ICS teachers met after school with UCDRC Director, Rhonda Mercs, and Counselor, Jen Kline, to learn about a variety of topics pertinent to their building. Rhonda and Jen began by reviewing services provided by UCDRC, and clarified the difference between clinical and school counselors. They hosted a session that focused on disorders, specifically Asperger’s syndrome, and offered tips for working with students who have Asperger’s. Rhonda and Jen also presented information about mental illness in the classroom and the importance of recognizing parents and extended family with mental illness and how this affects children. Since children have many learned behaviors, it is very important to listen to them and watch for signs that may cause concern. Teachers were assured that they can talk to the UCDRC counselors if there is concern for any student and were reminded to always be aware.

The after-school professional development sessions proved to be quite beneficial for ICS staff, and provided another tool for teachers to use as they strive to keep the learning environment at ICS positive and safe.

At the Catholic Education Summit


On July 12, 2013, the CCE hosted the 2013 Catholic Education Summit and Rhonda presented a session titled, “Mental Illness: A Non-Academic Barrier to Learning.”  Building upon the professional development she provided with Jen at ICS, Rhonda’s Summit presentation encompassed mental disorders commonly observed in the classroom, how disorders impact behavior, parents with mental illness, and strategies teachers can use in the classroom.