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Needs survey helped Boyle Schools provide more mental health services

Editor’s note: This is the final story in a series looking at the Boyle County School District’s needs survey and the ways the district is using the data to improve services for students.

As Boyle County Schools begin wrapping up the school year, school staff are still working on improving mental health services for students, based off of last fall’s district-wide needs survey.

The wide-ranging survey, which was answered by a student and/or parent in every school family except one, included several questions about social, emotional and behavioral health, explained Pam Tamme, the district’s director of health.

Based on the responses to those questions, the school district identified 477 students out of 2,061 who were followed up with by school psychologists and counselors.

Survey answers that triggered a follow-up included if a student answered negatively to whether they were happy most of the time, Tamme said. About 4.6 percent of students (95) said they weren’t. Of those 95 students, 39 said the reasons they didn’t feel happy included being anxious, sad or stressed out.

“A lot of times, kids don’t understand the difference between what’s sadness and what’s depression,” Tamme said. “That was probably the question where we felt like we needed the most careful follow-up.”

Another question administrators paid close attention to was whether students felt like there was an adult at school who would listen to them if they have a problem. Just 46 students — 2.2 percent — said there wasn’t.

In follow-ups with those students, more than half said they really just didn’t have any need or interest in talking to adults at school. That means only about 1 percent of Boyle students really felt there was no adult they could talk to at school, said Stephanie Wade, a spokesperson for the district.

“Ninety-nine percent of our kids felt like they did have an adult at school that they could talk to and I think that says a lot for our school staff members,” Wade said. “Whether that be counseling staff, teachers, administrators, even down to bus drivers, people working in the cafeteria — any adult. We’ve worked on that. So I think reaching out and finding that extra 1 percent and putting them in front of an adult at school that can help them” is a next step.

By following up with students, counselors detected “false positive” responses, such as when a student misunderstood a question or said they didn’t mean their answer like it sounded. They narrowed the list of students to 138 who needed further follow-up. Counselors also followed up with 65 parents.

Prior to the needs survey, there were 144 Boyle County students receiving some kind of mental or behavioral health services either from the school district or from a community health care partner. The needs survey helped identify 28 additional students who could benefit from services — 13 who could receive in-school services from the district’s counseling staff; and 15 that could receive services from community partners.

Tamme said “the supply and demand are out-of-sync” when it comes to mental health and the school district couldn’t provide all the services students need if it weren’t for community partners such as Bluegrass.org, Sunrise Children’s Services and many, many others.

“We have a greater need for counseling services than we’re able to easily supply,” she said. “We have lots of community partners who come in and see students at school.”

The district will be following up with counseling staff at the end of the school year to make sure the 138 students identified through the survey had their needs or concerns addressed.

“I think that this approach helped us find some students that needed support that didn’t have it yet,” Tamme said. “… The survey isn’t to get a percent — what percent is this? Or what percent is that? … The point is to get to the individual level of a student’s needs and their family’s needs. So that follow-up after the survey got done is the biggest piece of what we’ve done.”

Tamme said Boyle is working to further improve how it helps students with mental health. For example, later this month, every elementary teacher in the district is going to be trained on three calming strategies they can then teach to students to help them when they feel anxious, scared or angry. And the district’s counseling staff works in many different ways to teach students “resiliency” — teaching them to help themselves when things get hard.

“Any strategies that we can teach them and life skills” will be a benefit, Wade said. “… This is our future community — the kids that are sitting in our schools now are our future community, our future community members, future leaders, so we want to do continually more to meet their needs and ensure that they have success.”