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Danville schools to have mental health screenings

Danville Independent Schools will soon be implementing screening for possible social/emotional needs of all students as part of its comprehensive mental health action plan.

A video explaining the importance of the survey and how the information will be used to benefit students will be released next week said District School Wellness Counselor Sharon Todd. And it will also be available in Spanish and in American Sign Language.

The survey entails a universal mental health screener for all students in preschool through 12th grade. And it’s the “main component” of the district’s mental health action plan called CLAMPII, Todd said.

“Our school counselors can use this information to form group topics for their guidance classes. All information will be kept confidential,” Todd explained. “For example, if we notice stress levels are high, they might create lessons around positive coping strategies.”

“We cannot ignore mental health simply because students are not in school buildings. … As this school year is like never before, it is essential to maintain awareness of our students’ mental health needs.”

Todd said, “Experts are calling the current pandemic the ‘perfect storm’ for mental health disorders to arise. The ongoing stress faced by our students may be exacerbated by underlying or previously diagnosed mental health disorders.”

“At the inception of students learning from home in March and told to social distance, I was saddened by the number of students who thought they could not go outside of their homes to play.”
She added, “There have been situations that I cannot speak of, but I can attest to the hurt and heartache experienced by some through traumatic events.”

Students are already given academic assessments to determine their level of learning. And health screenings for vision and hearing are also used “to identify challenges that negatively impact health or academics,” Todd said.

“But what about screening for mental health,” she asked. “Research indicates that early identification and intervention of mental health concerns can vastly improve school and life outcomes for students.”

Surveys will be released for parents and students to complete during the week of October 19. Todd said she collaborated with school psychologists and colleagues to create a useful questionnaire.

Parents of students in preschool through fourth-grade will fill out the screening, and students in grades 5-12 will fill out the self-report.

“Sorting through the data will take time, but we have a great team,” Todd said. The goal is to have data/results by October 28 to begin making plans for the next steps.

“With hopes of ensuring the social and emotional needs of our students are met, this is something new I proposed this school year,” Todd said. “My desire to do this aligns with the need for a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) approach for social/emotional needs. … I believe we will acquire the necessary data to inform our mental health counseling program and help our students. I hope that we continue this process in the future.”

The assessments will help identify “symptoms of attention, internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Due to the nature of externalizing behaviors, such as physical aggression, cheating, stealing and disobeying rules, we are more likely to see them and come up with a plan of action,” Todd explained.

“However, when students internalize behavior, we don’t often know and it is essential to intervene… Oftentimes, those who internalize, or bottle up their feelings are very good at putting on a happy face.”

She added, “Suppressing emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, grief of frustration, can lead to physical stress in the like blood pressure, memory and self-esteem, and more importantly, put our students at greater risk of attempting suicide.”

Todd said in addition to collecting useful information and insight into their students’ social and emotional needs, “Hopefully the process of going through the questionnaire will create a space for people to pause and really reflect on their emotional state.”

Todd said students she’s talked to are ready to return to school, even if it is only two days a week, as planned by the Danville Board of Education, beginning Oct. 19.

“I believe this plan will provide some sort of normalcy for students and help them gain a sense of self. Furthermore, the lack of in-person educational options disproportionately harms our low-income and minority children and those with disabilities (CDC),” Todd said.

“Aside from a child’s home, no other setting influences a child’s health and well-being than their school.”

She added, “Social interaction at school among children in grades PK-12 is especially essential for developing language, communication, social, emotional, and interpersonal skills.

Considering my experiences with students and the current literature, returning to school is essential for our children’s mental and emotional well-being.”

 

Sharon Todd is a district School Wellness Counselor for Danville Independent schools, where she provides mental health counseling services to students. In addition to being a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), she is a certified school counselor and has over 14 years of experience in the public school setting. Todd is also a doctoral candidate at the University of the Cumberlands where she will graduate in May with a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision.