Pupil mental health is a priority for the upcoming school year as demand grows | education

By Annika Schmidt

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Amid concerns about adolescent mental health, students in the Pikes Peak area have access to resources in schools aimed at providing support both inside and outside of the classroom.

Mental health resources in some El Paso County districts have expanded to meet the growing demand for in-school support for children and youth.

The Centers for Disease Control cites mental health among adolescents as a growing concern, with one in three students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019.

in the Fountain-Fort Carson District 8 According to Lisa Zimprich, director of mental health, schools have seen an increase in the number of students requiring mental health services due to the pandemic.

The district’s “busy” staff of 50 mental health professionals, including counselors, psychologists and social workers, has grown in recent years, with more available to students in middle and high schools.

“We’ve probably added five or six mental health positions over the past few years just to be able to stay proactive with the services we provide,” Zimprich said. These professionals provide mental health support at all levels, and the district is working with community partners, including the army, to get therapists into schools.

During the past school year, elementary school students in District 8 needed the most support with emotional regulation and middle school students with social interactions and anxiety. Zimprich also said there has been a notable increase in high school students requiring help with feelings of anxiety and depression.

Strategies have been introduced in recent years to help students with emotional regulation and challenging life events. Signs of Suicide and Sources of Strength are two programs for prevention efforts in District 8 schools.

Zimprich cited waiting times for mental health services as an area of ​​improvement they are addressing by working with an outside agency starting this school year. Staff and parents are connected to comprehensive mental health services based on insurance and preference.

“Our hope is that students, families and staff will have access to medical care faster than we’ve seen in recent years,” Zimprich said. “In recent years we have seen a significant increase in waiting lists and in waiting times for mental health care.”

Academy district 20 implemented its social emotional learning programs around 2015 after what spokeswoman Allison Cortez called a “suicide cluster,” when about a dozen students took their own lives during the school year, Cortez wrote in an email.

Serving El Paso County’s largest district, the SEL program includes Riding the Waves to teach K-5 graders healthy methods of coping with stress, how to ask for help, and recognizing when others may need support. Grades 6-12 have Signs of Suicide, to recognize and respond to major depression or suicidal tendencies in themselves or others, and Sources of Strength, a program that supports students in social media with a focus on positive messaging.

RULER is also an all grade level system developed by Yale that teaches students to recognize, understand, name, express, and regulate emotions. Maureen Lang, District 20 Executive Director for Learning Services, was recognized in June for her work in implementing the systems approach to SEL.

“The programs… started small, but they’re all very robust now, and they’re all over our district. We were very fortunate to have solid support in place when the pandemic hit,” Cortez said.

Cortez shared that long-established parenting academies have shifted focus over the past five years to provide more support for social, emotional, and mental health.

In recent years, virtual counseling services have been made available to students in response to the pandemic, and a summer counseling program has been introduced in 2021.

district 49 According to Jason White, district community care coordinator, the institute has mental health professionals at both the school and district levels to meet the mental health needs of its approximately 25,000 students.

District 49’s tiered support systems are a panacea, White said, allowing schools to address more than a single student’s concern. White said there may be correlations between poor mental health and other academic, behavioral, or emotional struggles. When these correlations are made, White said several branches of support are available to help students.

School support is powered by student data. White gave the example that when a student is struggling with mental health, professionals can observe test results and respond accordingly. White said the district is working to make documentation more consistent and accessible across District 49 so that existing records and care plans can be followed as students move between schools.

Capturing Kids Hearts is a character-based curriculum that provides a framework for student interaction in District 49 schools. White said school staff are proactive in instilling in students a sense of purpose in their academic endeavors and fostering connections between students and peers, educators and administrators.

“The most important thing we do for student mental health is building and connecting relationships with students,” White said. “Without that, any of our tactics would be sub-par. Relationships come first.”

White said his team placed a particular focus on preventing risks of violence and suicide and worked with his security team to develop a process to step in and connect students with the appropriate and qualified individuals.

“We’re also working with community agencies and looking at ways to cut red tape to connect students or families for help,” White said, including referrals to therapies and other resources. “The directory is too numerous to list.”

Acknowledging the impact of the pandemic, White shared that the district’s youngest students need more support with social expectations and order compliance, in part due to limited socialization during pandemic-related closures.

However, White said that social media has been another major influencer on student mental health in recent years. “There’s a great value that students place on themselves, and that’s external evaluation,” he said.

Harrison District 2 recently made several changes to increase its support for student mental health, most recently working with Beacon Options Mental Health to establish the Family Assistance Program, a resource hotline.

Parents and caregivers can get help with the emotional, behavioral, health, social, educational, and household needs of their Harrison students by calling 1-888-339-1025 from a trained specialist.

This upcoming school year, District 2 is adding a new department to all schools that will oversee the SEL curriculum and new student success centers that were piloted last school year. Each school will have a full-time social worker in addition to psychologists and counselors.

The district partners with the Mindfulness and Positivity Project to help students and staff embrace mindfulness in the classroom and beyond. They have links with local therapists to support both students and parents.

The district uses the Colorado Crisis Services Talk and Text Line to connect students to community resources such as Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, NAMI Colorado and Inside Out Youth Services.

Large field district 3 has also seen a growing demand for mental health services, although it has a comprehensive program for all grade levels and is proactive in responding to a pre-pandemic need for additional mental health staff.

“We see a greater need for mental health support,” said Lisa Humberd, District 3’s executive director of special education services.

District 3 schools have full-time social workers in almost all of their schools and full-time counselors based on the number of students enrolled in each school.

The district provides social emotional learning opportunities for students of all ages, including 18-21 year olds in post-high school educational programs.

Student programs aim to provide a variety of mental health support services, including anger management, emotional identification, suicide prevention, as well as more focused guidance with assignment assignments or friendship groups, Humberd said.

To provide students with professional mental health support, each school in the district has its own referral process. Mental health teams meet weekly to identify trends, which helps guide education staff training throughout the school year.

Colorado Springs District 11 has community resources for a variety of mental health services including crisis support, grief management, sobriety support, and addiction management listed on its website.

According to the site, on-site counselors offer responsive services for individual or group counseling, crisis management and drop-out prevention.

Inside Mitchell High School is a Peak Vista primary health facility that provides health services including mental health services such as on-site behavioral health professionals and the opportunity to address psychological issues and life stressors.

The center serves students, staff and families not only from Mitchell High School, but also from other district feeder schools and residents of the neighborhood.

According to a district spokesman, the district is also in the process of hiring a new executive director to oversee the department that coordinates undergraduate mental health resources.

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