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America’s Safe Schools Week: Lansing USD 469 creates mental health team

Posted: Oct 19, 2021
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

KSDE highlighting school safety topics all week

To highlight the importance of a safe and secure school setting, Gov. Laura Kelly has proclaimed Oct. 17-23 as America’s Safe Schools Week. The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) is highlighting school safety topics all week through news releases and social media posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday focused on Emergency Operations Plans (EOP), and Tuesday’s topic is mental health. On Wednesday, learn more about the nine drills all schools have to conduct, and on Thursday learn about a partnership between KSDE and other agencies to create a reporting tool for schools and communities. Friday’s message will center on the importance of a strong recovery plan.

Mental health

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lansing Unified School District 469’s counselors, social workers, school psychologists and professional learning committee members would meet a few times per year.

“It was more like a collaboration time,” said Jake Hanson, a school psychologist at Lansing High School. “We had hit and miss attendance.”

The group used the time to problem-solve, discuss issues and work on policies and procedures,

A few days after Gov. Laura Kelly announced the closure of school buildings in March 2020, the group was scheduled to meet.

“Of course, it was by Zoom at that point,” Hanson said.

At that meeting, the group discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic already was beginning to impact students, staff members and the community. Teachers’ and parents’ emails were flooded with so much information, parents and students had questions, and there was an increase in the need for mental health resources in the community.

“We decided to address it as a team,” Hanson said.

The group went from meeting a few times per year to becoming an active mental health team.

“It was created for COVID,” Hanson said. “But we meet now as a mental health team.”

There are 11 people serving on the mental health team. The district also has a crisis intervention team, and members of the mental health team serve on it, too.

After the initial meeting, counselors, social workers, school psychologists and others across the district obtained Google voice, a telephone service that provides call forwarding, voicemail services, voice and text messaging, so parents could reach out if they needed help while working with students at home.

The team began developing a more in-depth webpage on the district’s website with resources ranging from community mental health, suicide prevention and food pantries to homelessness, bullying and a mobile crisis helpline.

“A lot of our students are having significant issues right now,” Hanson said. “We’re seeing an increase in the number of students needing social-emotional support.”

One in 13 Kansas students will attempt suicide, said John Calvert, director of KSDE’s Safe and Secure Schools team.

“Suicide is the No. 2 leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” he said. “It is important to be mindful of everyone’s mental health – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Lansing USD 469 also has increased accessibility to tools that can help students, according to Hanson. For example, students’ iPads are loaded with a social work application and a bullying application where students can go to get help or report bullying situations.

Lansing High School has a program called Breakfast Club that is for ninth- and 10th-grade students. It is a regular core academic class focused on social-emotional learning that takes place the first hour of the school day. The class is based around a trauma-informed curriculum.

Brian Malm, a Lansing High School science teacher, was the first teacher to try out Breakfast Club, and it has spread to several other classes, according to Hanson.

During each school day, Malm and other teachers taking part in Breakfast Club check in with their students, offer snacks and hydration, check each student’s to-do list and provide support. Weekly, students work toward developing ownership and pride in their work, check agendas and set goals.

In Malm’s Breakfast club, he has seen the number of failing grades decrease and the number of As increase. The cumulative grade point average of his 14-member class went from 1.39 before Breakfast Club to 2.06 at the end of the semester.

The district also has tried to provide more resources and information to staff members. All school employees in the state of Kansas are required to have at least one hour of suicide training each calendar year. The training can be satisfied through independent review of suicide prevention training materials. However, Lansing is taking it a step further now, Hanson said.

“We cater it to each building,” he said.

For example, at the elementary school, school personnel will learn what depression looks like for an elementary school student. And it is taught by one of the mental health team members.

School staff members also receive three hours of training on trauma-informed care and learn about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

The district also is prioritizing social-emotional learning in at-risk students and incorporating mental health in health classes at the high school.

“We’re trying to get rid of the stigma that goes along with mental health issues,” Hanson said. “Our data is showing that this is helping a lot of kids.”

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