School Board Questionnaire
Mental health problems are on the rise among adolescents and young adults. According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, rates of mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes have increased significantly over the last decade in these age groups. What should the school system do to help students who are suffering from loneliness and depression?
To support students suffering from loneliness and depression, the schools should do the following:
Implement mental health training for school employees, including teachers and administrators, to enhance their ability to recognize and address students’ mental health needs.
Ensure the presence of trained counselors within schools who are readily available to talk and provide guidance to students when needed.
Foster a compassionate classroom environment where teachers promote open dialogue and reduce the stigma around mental health.
Create peer support programs and mental health awareness campaigns to encourage students to seek help and support each other.
Collaborate with parents and guardians to establish a strong support network for students, both within and outside the school environment.
Based on my experience as a parent, I believe that Wyoming offers a supportive environment for students facing mental health challenges, but I would welcome the opportunity to learn about suggestions for improvement.
School systems need multi-faceted responses to the growing mental health crisis that extend beyond services provided by school counselors or referrals to therapists. I am a strong supporter of Wyoming working to be more proactive instead of reactive when it comes to the mental health needs of our children. The district has already taken several positive steps to embed Ohio’s social-emotional standards into the curriculum and offers various student opportunities for mental health breaks with parental/guardian permission (e.g. therapy dogs at the high school), but I am also interested in making sure that district staff feel well prepared to support our students. At Miami University (my place of employment) we have the opportunity to participate in Mental Health First Aid focused on working with adults, and I wonder if similar opportunities exist at the K-12 level?
You ask about these specific items but anxiety and other issues related to social and emotional factors negatively impact students ability to focus, be present and thrive.
The recently completed WCS strategic plan elevated Social & Emotional Well-Being as one of our 5 focus areas, to ensure specific actions help address overall well-being of students, staff and families. The Values outlined in this plan included Belonging & Community as well as The Whole Child to ensure balance of focus with our Academic Excellence. Specific things to deliver on this focus area include: the Parents Partnership Series which now has content available to help parents identify ways to protect and support their kids from issues resulting from overdoing social media, Wellness sessions available twice per month for staff and administration, and guidance for counselors to help children identify the right course load for them vs. maximizing number of AP courses if that’s not right for a student.
Suicide awareness and prevention information / efforts are also available within WCS.
In fact, there is significant data that students in our nation are struggling. To reach these students, families and the schools must partner together. Student achievement and passion for learning is interlocked with a student’s positive mindset and self-confidence. I have seen real targeted change during the leadership of our superintendent and I support his initiatives. Here are measures initiated during my time on the Board of Education:
1. Development of a strategic plan with a priority pillar called social and emotional well-being, committed to the well-being of our students, our staff, our families. You can see initiatives at all grade levels in our annual goals and directives.
2. In addition, there is a pillar in our strategic plan for climate and culture. This directive seeks to create a positive climate in our schools where students, staff, and families feel valued. You can see initiatives at all grade levels in our annual goals and directives. Next time you are in the BOE meeting room, read this year’s goals on the wall.
3. We have doubled the number of full time counselors in all grade divisions of our schools. They have established strong partnerships with teachers to identify students in need.
4. We have doubled the number of full time psychologists in our district. They work individually with students, with families, also in class settings, and in collaboration with teachers.
5. We have partnered with Best Point, with two full time therapists in our district who work with our students on issues of well-being, social-emotional growth, and facing challenges.
6. We have implemented social screener assessments that helped us identify those in need.
We partnered with 1N5 (one in five) in a collaborative needs audit to develop future plans. This organization works to erase the stigma of mental illness and to prevent suicide.
7. During recent contract negotiations, administration and teachers partnered to design a new position, a 504 coordinator, to help organize data for counselors for their efficiency thus to increase their time with students.
8. Support groups are formed for those in need, whether in a formal meeting format, or through touch point regular connections, or through the High School flex period or PBIS support in the middle and primary schools. Other tools include small group lunches, group activities that focus on well-being, informal conversations, family/school programs, etc.
9. Scheduled wellness programs coordinated with Be, a new establishment in Wyoming, targets all teachers.
10. The schools and the PSA organize community conversations around issues. Coming up is one on social media and its negative effects on our children’s well-being. In the past, there have been gatherings on bullies, illegal drugs and vaping, and stress.
I find national reports of youth disengagement and depression to be profoundly alarming. There are a number of possible factors contributing to these adverse mental health conditions. I am particularly concerned about the impact of digital media on the intellectual development and social/emotional health of our learners.
Within a seven-hour school day, we cannot perfectly remedy all societal factors contributing to adverse mental health. But we can focus on what we can control. We can and do educate students to be smart consumers of digital information, to recognize disinformation and risks of social media, and to stay connected with others who can balance harmful messaging. We can and do conduct school-wide wellness surveys, sponsor wellness programs, offer community-wide educational forums, and encourage our teachers and staff to be present and supportive of students in venues beyond the classroom.
Overall, we must remain vigilant in identifying students who may need support, and partner with parents and caregivers to address concerns and connect families with professional resources when appropriate.