Robin Hojnoski Participates in House Education Committee Hearing on Mental Health in Schools

Monday, January 22, 2024 - 8:00am

STORY BY Lehigh Editorial Services

Robin Hojnoski, professor of school psychology and associate dean for graduate studies with the College of Education at Lehigh, testified about the critical shortage of mental health professionals in Pennsylvania schools during a House Education Committee Hearing in Harrisburg.

The hearing took place Jan. 18, after which the committee voted to send three bills to the House floor that would add a suicide and crisis hotline number onto school I.D. cards; allow students three excused absences for mental health days, and standardize school counseling services in Pennsylvania.

During her testimony, Hojnoski said mental and behavioral health and well-being is a critical focus in improving outcomes for children and youth. About one in five U.S. students exhibit clinically significant symptoms of one or more mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders and conduct problems, she said.

Schools offer a unique opportunity for early identification, prevention and intervention efforts, but there is a significant gap between the number of youth who require mental health and behavioral support and the number who receive intervention, largely due to the lack of trained professionals in school settings, Hojnoski said.

Staffing shortages are exacerbated by increased stress and burnout among educators. According to the Rand Corporation, educators continue to report worse well-being than the general population of working adults, and approximately 23% of educators surveyed reported they were likely to leave their job at the end of the school year.

Supporting the wellbeing of educators is essential to promoting positive outcomes for students.

The College of Education at Lehigh is working on several fronts to address the need for school-based mental and behavioral health services, Hojnoski said. Through effective training of educational and mental health professionals, model programs such as the Centennial School, and high-impact research collaborations, Lehigh is leading efforts to increase the number of educators who are prepared to meet the needs of children and adolescents in school settings and to promote positive learning and social emotional outcomes for all students, she said.

Hojnoski’s research area of interest focuses on the application of school psychology principles and practices to early education. She is particularly interested in early identification and prevention and intervention for learning and social behavior.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith College, a master’s degree in child study from Tufts University and a Ph.D in school psychology from University of Massachusetts. She has written for multiple publications. A video of the hearing is available here.

H.B. 1553 adds the 9-8-8 suicide and crisis hotline onto school I.D. cards.

H.B. 1519 grants students three excused absences for mental health days.

H.B. 1665 standardizes school counseling services in Pennsylvania by defining the role of school counselors and requiring schools to offer counseling services.

Research Focus: 
School and District Reform
Field of Expertise: 
Education Policy