Making mental health a priority: Johnson, Doak lead training sessions at Grundy Center schools

Robert Maharry
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER- Mental health has always been Julie Johnson’s passion and mission, and that goal has offered her a special opportunity to team up with the Grundy Center school district and offer trainings to both students and staff in line with social-emotional learning goals for the 2020-2021 school year.


Johnson, a local counselor with an office on G Avenue, and student achievement coordinator Dr. Cara Doak led the sessions on Thursday, August 13, and Friday, August 14. In light of the COVID-19 situation and other extenuating factors, attention to the mental health of teachers and support staff and offering tools like stress management strategies has become even more important, according to Doak.


“As our task force started to get together, one of the first things that came up and that we were in agreement on is that if and when we are able to go back to (class) together, we have to make sure our teachers’ mental health is okay,” Doak said. “If they’re not okay, we can’t help, support and make sure that our students are okay.”


As Johnson noted, teachers serving as mental health role models has a positive ripple effect on students, and the trainings have also created collaborative opportunities with other nearby districts like Dike-New Hartford and Aplington-Parkersburg.


“We’re really prioritizing the teachers and prioritizing the people who are going to be the support system for the students,” Johnson said.


The ideas shared are a first step, as both Johnson and Doak noted, and incorporating them into classrooms will be a long-term building process, not a one-time thing.


“I just love that the school is taking that process, and I love that no one at the school is saying ‘Here’s one training, and now you should be good.’ There’s a lot of validation as to what the students are going to be going through this year as well as what the teachers are going to be going through,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of recognition of that, and with COVID there’s sometimes a tendency to not acknowledge what’s happening. But I think that our school district in Grundy is doing such a good job of calling a spade a spade.”


Of course, the cloud of COVID-19 looms heavily over the 2020-2021 school year, and changes to the way classes and activities are conducted may be difficult for both students and staff to adjust to at first. Johnson and Doak hope that an openness to mental health care will allow students and staff to express their feelings and cope with some of the isolation that’s come with quarantining and social distancing efforts.


“In this situation, it’s been a long term series of sometimes small and sometimes big losses—losses of traditions, losses of ways that we used to do things, comfort things and entertainment things,” Johnson said. “Those routines have been changed a lot, and they’ve been changed in a way where we don’t know when they’re changing back. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”


The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

Mid-America Publishing

This newspaper is part of the Mid-America Publishing Family. Please visit for more information.