Student leaders respond to need to focus on mental health issues | News
By Christina Amano Dolan Editor
Members of the Superintendent’s High School Student Advisory Committee were spotlighted at the Hanover School Board meeting last week, highlighting how young students have served as powerful voices to their peers over the years and spurred significant changes in their leadership roles.
Dr. Bob Staley, Director of Secondary Education and Panel Leader, provided an overview of the group and what participants have accomplished over the years.
Established in 1997, the High School Student Advisory Council is made up of student representatives from every grade level in every middle school and high school in the county, including two students from Georgetown School, two from the Hanover Center for Trades and Technology and seven from the County of Hannover Online School.
Students are handpicked by their respective directors to sit on the panel on behalf of their peers. The panel currently has 36 students who remain on the panel until graduation.
The group typically meets several times a year with Superintendent Michael Gill and consults with senior staff and central office leaders to determine areas of focus. Student responses are shared with principals after each meeting with an annual report provided to the school board in June.
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“When students talk, we listen,” said Staley, who described the focus areas they’ve been diving into this school year, including student devices and technology, lunch menus, scheduling, flexible learning days, the need for a school counselor or guidance counselors, and reporting. bullying behaviors.
Due to complications with COVID-19 restrictions, the panel has only met with Gill twice this school year. He said he looks forward to a “more robust” schedule as they get back to normal.
Several panel members stood alongside Staley during the meeting to share their experience on the panel and offer suggestions for the upcoming school year. Zane Abbud from Atlee High School, Suzanne Donaldson from Atlee High School, Christopher DeCambre from Mechanicsville High School and Mia Walker from Patrick Henry High School were in attendance.
Abbud thanked Gill, Atlee Secondary School Principal John Wheeler and the school board for giving him the opportunity to be on the panel and listen to their ideas, suggestions and feedback. He has served on the jury since his freshman year.
“One thing I would like to share with you tonight is that given our experience working with so many fabulous people here in this same room, Hanover County is really listening to us as students,” Abbud said.
Donaldson, who has been on the panel since sixth grade, shared the positive relationships she has established over the years as a student leader, including her strengthened relationship with Wheeler and her former principal Mark Beckett of Chickahominy Middle School.
“It was also great to get to know some of the school board members personally, but more importantly, being able to collaborate with students outside of my high school was a great opportunity,” Donaldson said.
Sophomore Walker has been on the panel since her freshman year. She said the advisory committee is a great opportunity to hear first-hand from students what is happening in schools and stressed the importance of focusing on student mental health.
“I would encourage division leadership to continue to focus on mental health,” Walker said. “…Poor mental health is a major killer of adolescents. This is a serious subject, and we can solve it by making the environment safe and student-friendly. »
Gill said the topic of mental health came up in every group during the last panel meeting.
“It’s important for our young people, who we continue to focus on,” Gill said. “So I want to thank our students for acknowledging that, for talking about it very candidly, which we know will lead to progress.”
Chickahominy board representative Bob Hundley suggested the panel explore further ideas for tackling bullying in schools and how it intersects with mental health.
“Because this is a situation that’s been going on for as long as there have been students, and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to deal with it all at once,” Hundley said. “But I think with input from students like you, I think we can make a big difference.”
Disciplinary Hearings Review Officer Dr. Brian Maltby reviewed the 2021-2022 Equity Report and discussed the topic of mental and behavioral health in schools in more detail, drawing attention to a recent increased suicide assessments conducted by school counsellors.
According to the report, 294 assessments were conducted in the 2019-2020 school year, which included data only up to March 13, 2020, due to COVID-19 related school closures. In the 2020-2021 school year, the ratings dropped to 159, which may be partly due to virtual learning instead of in-person instruction. In the current school year, ratings have risen to 295 as of May 1.
“The numbers are high, the need for mental health resources…is clear,” Maltby said. “They are still an important part of our children’s school day.”
The report also identified a trend with many students reporting feeling tired, anxious and worried. A majority of the same students reported having access to coping skills or a trusted adult to turn to for help.
Maltby said he had the privilege of working closely with the Secondary Student Advisory Committee to identify the need for mental health resources in schools and highlighted the resources they have allocated to support mental health and behavioral.
“The highlight this year is not so much the technology resources as what we’re doing to help with mental health and behavior in our schools,” Maltby said. “And I can tell you we’ve had some amazing successes.”
Resources now available to students include five therapy dogs in schools, new social workers, positive behavior support coaches, elementary counselors, school mental health clinicians, ABA behavior advisory teachers, a new guidance counsellor, a positive behavior support coordinator and a new intervention counsellor. for the prevention of drug addiction.
When asked what the biggest benefit of being on the panel was, Walker said she enjoyed the character building aspect. Donaldson said it helped her come out of her shell, and DeCambre said he enjoys public speaking and having important conversations with adults. Abbud said he liked learning how to make changes.
“Schools won’t be perfect,” Abbud said. “…So to be able to kind of help bring about that change, to see how that change is created, and then to communicate that to the people that I represent, I think that was probably the biggest benefit for me.”