Key points:

  • Students often struggle to transition to the workforce, and mental health can be a big factor in that struggle
  • One educator launched a new approach to student mental health to complement an existing emphasis on pre-vocational skill development
  • See related article: How our district engages students in a CTE program

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

As a longtime public school occupational therapist, I know what students look and sound like when they’re ready to transition from the work lab to the workforce.

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. 

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