Boston Children’s went live and hosted a roundtable discussion in partnership with Boston Public Schools. Our experts covered mental health issues in teens and young adults and discussed access to behavioral health services, best practices in schools and available resources for students, families, and school communities. In response to the show 13 Reasons Why, we feel it’s important to continue the conversation around depression and suicide.



As we launch the first of our guest blogger series, we welcome Dr. Carryl P. Navalta,  Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.  We welcome Dr. Navalta’s insight.  If you are interested in becoming a guest blogger for, please contact us.

When bad things happen to good kids: How adversity affects child development

On the surface, we typically believe that all we need to do for our children is to give them food to eat, a roof over their heads, and clothes on their backs. Also, as a backdrop to these necessities, we’re supposed to provide them with emotional support and guidance as they navigate the transitions from childhood to adolescence, and ultimately to adulthood. In addition, our children go to school along this developmental path where we expect them to get a quality education from well-meaning and nurturing teachers with the ‘end game’ being a good job after high school graduation, or better yet, a chance to attend college that can lead them to a great job or even a career. If our children develop social skills, make and keep friends, and have one or more ‘romantic’ relationships along the way, those experiences would be ‘icing on the cake’. In all, if everything turns out well, we would all agree that this outcome is good. Now the bad.

Scientific research has reached a point where most experts agree that adversity during childhood can have very negative and far-reaching effects on child development. These types of bad experiences have been labeled with various names, such as adverse childhood experiences (“ACE’s”), complex trauma, polyvictimization, and toxic stress to name a few. Regardless of the term, we now know that our children’s development can take a very ‘wrong turn’ if they are exposed to a number of these adversities, which can happen at home (such child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, impaired caregivers), at school (such as bullying), and in the community (such as physical violence, shootings, terrorism). The consequences of these experiences have been documented most comprehensively by a landmark set of studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

In a nutshell, here’s what the investigators have shown. First, exposure to a number of these adversities (usually four or more) increases the chances that children will develop social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Then, if these problems do occur, that can lead them to have unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, poor exercise, experimentation with alcohol and drugs, and hanging out with ‘bad kids’. Once these actions become habit, it’s not too surprising that the children grow up and have great risk for developing a number of physical, mental, and social problems, such as heart disease, depression and anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and criminal behavior. The worst of it is that once these problems arise, the chance of dying early becomes a reality – an outcome that’s as bad as it can get.

So, what can parents and other important adults in our children’s lives do? The answer is simple, but hard to do in practice. Each stage of our children’s lives needs to be seen as an ‘opportunity’ or ‘window’ to help prevent them from entering and going down this ‘deadly’ road. One example of this type of prevention is to identify those kids who are at risk of developing drug or alcohol problems. Luckily, a simple and scientifically-proven screening procedure is now available, Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). In fact, here in Massachusetts, the Children’s Mental Health Campaign has a mission to equip schools with the staffing and expertise needed to provide SBIRT in all schools throughout the Commonwealth!

The time has come to recognize that we have the responsibility to help and support our children not only when things are good, but also when bad things happen. Their lives can literally be at stake.

Carryl P. Navalta, Ph.D.
Father of two teenage girls

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Boston University School of Medicine

Research Associate
Trauma Center at Justice Resource Institute

For a more comprehensive review and description of the effects of childhood adversities on development, visit

Today on the blog, we welcome Dr. Paula St. James who serves as the school psychologist at the Ellison Parks Early Education School!  She’s here to let us know about some of the wonderful CBHM work going on in her school

Ellison Parks



The Dr. Catherine Ellison / Rosa Parks Early Education School is located in Mattapan and serves children from PreK to grade 3. The Ellison Parks is an inclusion school and all classes are inclusion or for English Language Learners.

Principal Natalie Ake has taken a lead role in the implementation of CBHM and is an enthusiastic supporter of social emotional learning at Ellison Parks.

The school is in its second year of implementation of CBHM and has in place PBIS as well as a social emotional learning curriculum (Second Step or Open Circle) in all classrooms.

The PBIS program is centered on SOAR values (Safe, Open Minded, Accomplished, and Respectful.) Here is the SOAR behavioral matrix developed by staff:

EP Mtx

The SOAR values are taught throughout the school. When a child is spotted by a staff member exhibiting one of the SOAR values, they are given a wing. Students in PreK and Kindergarten work towards a group goal. If the class meets the weekly wings goal the students have a small celebration in the classroom. Students in grade 1-3 earn wings individually towards a small weekly classroom celebration.

Students show their SOAR values in all settings:

EP play

EP saftey

EPEvery month the whole school comes together to celebrate SOAR values. Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms are given a certificate to display stating the number of wings the class earned for the month. They then have a “wings parade throughout the school” to the tune of the school song “SOAR” adapted from Roar by Katy Perry.

EP Song

The grade 1 through 3 celebration features students demonstrating the SOAR values to their peers through presentation of class work, skits, dances, and the reading of compliments students have given each other. At the assembly, students who have met a monthly goal set by their teacher are awarded a “Golden Wing.”

Thank you Ellison Parks for sharing all of your hard work! 

If you would like to see your school in the spotlight, contact and let us know about the great things you’re doing!

Welcome to our first CBHM Spotlight where we will be highlighting what our CBHM schools are doing around the city.  Today we are visiting the Haynes Early Education Center.  Thank you to Principal Donette Wilson Wood and Dr. Paula St. James for sharing the exciting work happening at the Haynes!

The Haynes Early Education Center is a Boston Public School school serving 200 students in K0 through 1st grade.  They adopted the Comprehensive Behavioral Health Model (CBHM) in 2013 and have made huge strides in promoting a wide variety of Positive Behavior Supports in their school.

 As part of their PBIS work, the Haynes identified their school values as: Respect, Responsibility, and Citizenship. These core values were fashioned into a Behavior Matrix that teaches students what is expected of them across settings.


Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 9.25.49 AM

In addition, the school staff and students worked together to choose and name their mascot.

Everyone, meet Jasmine the turtle!


Dr. St. James is the school psychologist at the Haynes EEC this year and here she is telling us a little more about the role Jasmine plays at the Haynes.

“Students at the Haynes EEC are working hard on their school values: Respect, Responsibility, and Citizenship. These are taught to each student as part of School Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support. The Turtle has long been the symbol of the Haynes EEC. The students voted on a name for their turtle mascot. Her name is Jasmine. A large mural of Jasmine welcomes visitors as they enter the Haynes. The students are now known as “ The Haynes Talented Turtles”. As an incentive for school wide positive behavior support, the children earn small paper turtles for showing the school values of Respect, Responsibility and Citizenship. Each week they add up the number of turtles they have earned and place a turtle on Jasmine with their name and the number of turtles they earned that week.”




“Starting this week, Jasmine’s store will be coming to each classroom on Fridays. Students can pick a prize based on the number of turtles they earned that week. Everyone at the Haynes is very excited about this new addition to our positive behavior incentive program!”

unnamed  We are so excited to see Jasmine & the Haynes EEC community inspiring young students to learn and demonstrate these important core values.  Keep up the great work Talented Turtles!  We can’t wait to see what you do next!

If you would like to see your school in the spotlight, contact and let us know about the great things you’re doing!

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