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Community Conversation Focuses on Mental Health, Wellness and Prevention

  • Community Conversations
Community Conversation Focuses on Mental Health, Wellness and Prevention

As part of its long-standing community conversation program, the Lakota Board of Education recently invited its stakeholders to discuss mental health, wellness and prevention as it pertains to students.

Lakota Interim Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lori Brown shared background information and data to clarify the difference between prevention and wellness versus mental health. Prior to stepping into her current role in February 2023, as director of student services, Brown oversaw mental health support in Lakota.

Prevention and Wellness versus Mental Health

As a public school district, Lakota must follow multiple rules and regulations put forward by the Ohio Department of Education, including Ohio House Bill (HB) 123, HB 318 and Erin’s Law. Additionally, the Ohio Department of Education directs districts to implement the Social and Emotional Learning standards. These standards are directly related to Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education and its four learning domains. Brown explained to the participants that supporting prevention and wellness programs in schools has a direct impact on students’ mental and physical health.

Lakota’s mental health programs include its partnership with MindPeace, which places school-based therapists in all 23 schools at no cost to the district. Students must be referred for treatment by the school, parent or parent connection and parent permission must be given before treatment can begin. Through this process, therapists perform an evaluation and set goals with the parent(s) before therapy begins.

This school year alone, from Aug. 2022 through Feb. 2023, there have been 119 cases of suicidal ideation by Lakota students. In these situations, counselors have reported the ideations, completed an analysis of the student’s situation and then followed protocol to get the student the right assistance. 

Brown also shared the following statistics with the attendees:

  • In 2021, 31.2% of Lakota high school students self-reported having severe anxiety and 14.8% reported a clinical level of depression;
  • As of Feb. 28, 2023, 816 Lakota students are participating in school-based therapy, with 90 students on a wait list; and 
  • As of Jan. 31, 2023, there have been 35 partial or in-patient hospitalizations for Lakota students.

Impact of Physical Health

Physical health takes into account the absenteeism rate for students, including chronic absenteeism. Chronic absenteeism means that a student has missed 10% or more days of school. At Lakota, the daily absence rate is about 6.2% district wide and about 20% of Lakota students are considered chronically absent from school. 

Physical health also encompasses clinic visits and reports about abusive situations to Child Protective Services. This school year, there have been more than 46,000 non-scheduled clinic visits through February and 73 Child Protective Services reports have been made about concerning situations.

The amount of sleep children get can impact their ability to learn effectively. In 2021, 46.9% of Lakota students in grades 9-12 reported getting under 6 hours of sleep with 82.9% getting 7.5 hours of sleep or less. 

The Role of Social-Emotional Learning

Social emotional learning (SEL) has been a part of Lakota’s health curriculum for many years. Students in grades 3-8 can participate in a self assessment of their social emotional learning through a survey tool called Panorama. The areas of focus for their assessment are sense of belonging at school, classroom effort, self-management, social awareness and emotion regulation. Lakota is now in its fourth year of using this tool to gauge students’ sense of belonging in school. 

  • 73% of students in grades 3-5 identified something favorable about a sense of belonging
  • 55% of students in grades 6-8 identified something favorable about a sense of belonging.

During the community conversation, participants were asked why a sense of belonging would be important. Participants shared that “when you are in funk or feeling unwelcome, you can’t learn” and “a sense of trust is what allows you to feel safe.”

Brown further explained prevention efforts across the district by grade band. 

View the presentation

“This community conversation is always one that has a lot of interest,” said board member Kelley Casper. “Lori Brown did an excellent job explaining the resources the district has to help with student wellness.” Casper is also a member of the Board’s community engagement committee.

Following the presentation, program facilitator Jeff Stec asked the participants to share their takeaways. Here’s what was said:

  • Having 90 kids on a waiting list for school-based therapy is a sign of unmet needs.
  • Older people never talked about mental health needs, it was there but not talked about, commercials are more present to allow conversations, but parents do not feel like they have tools to respond.
  • There is also increased parent anxiety.
  • There may be a stigma in families about discussing mental health.
  • If you explain what SEL is, versus calling it SEL, people are supportive.
  • We need early diagnosis of anxiety in early childhood buildings; there is a lack of knowledge about what anxiety might look like in young learners.
  • Sixth graders are pretty knowledgeable about SEL and there is a lack of interest in programming now.
  • It is still hard for students to talk about serious issues; there’s a stigma there for suicidal ideations and hospitalizations.
  • Our data shows suicidal ideations in grades 3-6 and we even have some in ECS.
  • There has been an increase in mental health support for Edge Teen Center students. Therapists visits have increased and peer-to-peer is great and decreasing stigma, but students are still not self-advocating to parents about their needs.
  • What are the Employee Assistance Program and building based supports for Staff’s mental health needs?

What’s Most Important

Wrapping up the evening, Stec asked the participants to share what was their most important takeaway from the discussion about mental health support for students.

  • Access to on-site care in building through therapists.
  • Billing is all taken care of through MindPeace.
  • Building a community through the student’s class and family and creating a sense of belonging for students.
  • What is your motivation? Intrinsic motivation to make contributions to their “classroom community,” parent voice as a whole to help implement versus threatening to take away recess.
  • Learning styles research is often 20 years old versus what learning looks like now. Making sure the right person is in the right job. For example, if a psychologist is needed, hire one.
  • Staff often use bullying style to speak to children to get things done.
  • Early intervention and training for staff development to address needs of students that are not in the middle of the bell curve.
  • SEL, counselors and Hope Squad are all working for families. Need to grow and have better implementation of skills in real-life learning versus paperwork.
  • If you are already using a doctor, you cannot use MindPeace because of a conflict of interest and dual billing.
  • Professional development needs with all staff, including aides, lunchroom, specials.
  • The challenge is creating self-awareness in professional development.
  • Parents coming in to share experiences in a professional development session about Special Ed, students talking to staff, etc.
  • Parents CAN partner with the school and the earlier the better. 
  • Data is shared, but often the wellness and prevention is not done. For example, there is a Literacy Night at school, but not a wellness and prevention night.
  • The challenge as parents is not knowing what to do. Is there a “magic answer” that might fix the issue? 
  • It’s trial and error, but no clear cut answer. Then reassess.
  • Class size, meaningful conversations are difficult to do! Ratios of connection allows for better opportunity for students to find their “person.”
  • How do we implement this? How do we partner together? How do we help staff to be willing to try versus “we only do it THIS WAY.”

Board President, and member of the community engagement committee, Lynda O’Connor was pleased with the openness in the discussion and thoughts shared. “Our staff talked about student mental health needs within Lakota, while families shared their own student’s experiences,” she said. “It provided us with some direct feedback about resources - what’s working and what’s not. I really appreciate the candor and openness everyone brought to the table around the subject.”

Casper agreed. “The community was very engaged in the discussion,” she said. “A good sign for me was that the 90 minutes flew by and we could have talked another 90 minutes.”

To learn more about Lakota’s mental health and wellness supports, visit the district website.

  • community conversations