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Mental health an essential element of education

By Justin Strawser

MILTON — Addressing mental health in staff and students is the key to making the educational services provided by the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit a success, according to CSIU’s director of the Center for Schools and Communities.

Dr. Shileste Overton Morris, who has been with the CSIU for 21 years, serves as the director of the Center for Schools and Communities, a statewide training and technical assistance organization to support the improvement of educational and life outcomes for children and their families.

The Center’s work focuses on a continuum of efforts around early childhood care and development, social and emotional learning, positive youth development, family support and community service integration, school safety and youth violence prevention.

“Mental health impacts everything,” said Overton Morris.

“It impacts a student’s ability to learn, ability to make connections and relationships with adults who care about them, it impacts how they respond and react to community events. We certainly know it is one of the highest priorities the districts in the region feels need to be addressed.”

Those with trauma — studies show that it’s 82 percent of the population — are more likely to have trouble learning, reduced graduation rates and physical problems, said Overton Morris.

“When teachers understand that most students have experienced some form of trauma, then your approach to help them build core competencies in their life become extremely important,” she said. “Without them, they cannot learn and they cannot be productive, successful citizens.” Identifying the underlying issue is better than immediate punishment, she said.

Overton Morris works mostly in Camp Hill at the Center’s headquarters but she frequently comes to the CSIU at 90 Lawton Lane, Milton. She attends a superintendent meeting once a month and every board meeting in Milton to report about progress and programs.

Part of the mental health initiative includes the Center for the Promotion of Social Emotional Learning, launched in 2016. It provided resources for teachers and staff to teach the skills for social-emotional learning to students.


Overton Morris completed her Doctor of Education at Shippensburg University, defending her dissertation in August 2019.

She earned a master’s degree in public administration and a certificate in nonprofit administration from Pennsylvania State University, as well as a bachelor’s in communications from Temple University.

Overton-Morris is a graduate of the education policy leadership fellow program sponsored by the Institute for Educational Leadership and possesses certifications and trai ni ng i n a number of education related and youth serving areas.

She has worked at and with both public and private institutions including nonprofit organizations, foundations and state government agencies building strategic partnerships and leading innovative work.

She serves on a number of national, state and local boards, including the National Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN), The Foundation for Enhancing Communities Women’s Fund, and the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Healthy Youth, which she chaired.

“Dr. Morris has demonstrated strong leadership on key education initiatives focused on addressing barriers to success for students and their families,” said CSIU Assistant Executive Director Lynn Cromley.

“Her 21-year tenure with the CSIU provides a strong foundation to lead its Center for Schools and Communities, supporting both our local region and schools throughout the commonwealth.”

Committee, conference

The Social-Emotional Wellness Committee is made up of diverse representatives of schools and community organizations focused on ensuring safe and supportive environments for students.

One of their focus areas is developing a crisis team for incidents, such as students or staff being killed in accidents or someone taking their own life, said Overton Morris.

The 2020 National Social Emotional Learning Conference occurs on May 18-20 in Baltimore. More than 800 professionals, including two from every district in the CSIU, from around the nation will attend, she said.

Established in 1971 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, intermediate units operate as regional educational service agencies providing cost-effective, management-efficient programs to Pennsylvania’s 501 public school districts and over 2,400 non-public and private schools.

In addition, intermediate units serve as liaison agents between the school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

The Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) is a regional education service agency that prides itself on serving the needs of schools, students, families and communities. CSIU’s many programs and services reflect its mission to provide quality education services that help students learn, support teachers in bringing best practices to the classroom, and offer valuable services to school districts.

The CSIU’s primary service area consists of Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties in central Pennsylvania. It also includes 17 school districts, three career and technical centers, 69 nonpublic schools, 36,945 public and nonpublic school students and 3,905 district instructional, administrative and support staff. The services include administrative services, educational services, financial services and marketplace services.

Dr. Shileste Overton Morris, director of the Center for Schools and Communities, works to improve the education and lives of children across the state.

Justin Engle/The Daily Item

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