IOWA CITY, IOWA — Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has approved a plan to spend $20 million in federal pandemic relief funds to found the Iowa Center for School Mental Health at the University of Iowa. 

The starting of this center comes at a time when Iowa schools are struggling to properly care for students mental health issues amid rising staff shortages and budgets that don’t keep up with inflation. The new center hopes not to turn teachers into guidance counselors, but to help them know what may lie ahead.

“The different types of stress and anxiety and depression and loneliness that people might be experiencing if they are ill-equipped to manage all of those big feelings and big emotions that are creating issues and challenges in their life,” said Kari Vogelgesang, of the Center for School Mental Health. “We know that sometimes people make some pretty horrifying decisions for themselves and for others.”

Vogelgesang said the Center will work with future and current teachers to recognize some types of behavior that could be related to mental illness. They also want to encourage teachers to model how they handle emotions, so the students can see a positive example of how to respond.

Also, the Center is working on a project to help student peers be able to recognize some signs of a mental health problem.

“To see all of the signs that may or may not be there on a day-to-day basis,” said Vogelgesang. “That’s why it’s really important that adolescents, educators across the board are thought of as first responders and again not being trying to be a school counselors that’s a different level of care, but know how to listen for different warning signs and then know who to go to to get some extra support.”

The College of Education graduates around 150 new teachers per semester. Of late, nationally education colleges have seen less people signing up to be teachers.