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Fayette County Public Schools encourages teachers, families to monitor students’ state of mind


Given the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning, Fayette County Public Schools encourages staff and families to be especially aware of their students’ state of mind.

“There’s an added concern. One, the stress of having to manage school in a different way,” said Shericka Smith, district coordinator of Extended School Services, Social Work, and Mental Health Services. “But also, our students are forced to be isolated and not have social interaction with peers and teachers, and they don’t have access to a mental health professional or counselor as soon as they would in school.

“Even though we’re virtual, there are still resources available,” she noted. “We’re still in the schools every day, and we’re still working to protect and monitor as best we can.”

Shericka Smith (left) and Raine Minichan. (FCPS photo)

Fortunately, FCPS jump-starts the school year each fall with informative lessons that cover the warning signs of suicide and tell students in grades 6-12 how to get help. “We really stress to the students, even if you’re not feeling this way, you may know of a peer who is,” Smith said. With the district using Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI), the staff is disseminating these resources online by mid-September, which coincides with national Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 6-12).

“It’s an attempt to make a difficult topic something that we talk about and address as a school or district. Rather than it being a taboo subject, it’s something we bring to the forefront. Research shows that approaching the subject and opening discussion can prevent suicide,” said Raine Minichan, district coordinator of Extended School Services, Guidance, and Mental Health Services.

Meanwhile, a pair of technology tools track students as well. Social Sentinel, which monitors their posts on social media, is part of the district’s Comprehensive 10-Point Safety Investment Plan. Safety Relay, which reviews daily activity on the district-issued Chromebooks, alerts staff to emotionally charged language and distressed students.

So what should families watch for? Troublesome signs include extreme sadness, desire to be alone, explicit posts on social media and in other writing, sleeping excessively or not sleeping at all, sudden mood changes, loss of hope for the future, giving away important possessions, and gathering medicines or weapons as potential means of self-harm.

Echoing Smith, Minichan cautioned that the multiple stressors of the pandemic take a toll. “There’s also the absence of those social connections, which for adolescents are so needed and important developmentally,” she said. “And the fact that this has gone on for so long can really create a sense of hopelessness for someone who was already vulnerable, so we have to do everything we can as a district to support our students and families.”

FCPS recently launched GetHELP, where people can request assistance from the Student Support Services Department. “If parents are starting to worry about their students, this resource is helpful to connect with someone from their school,” Smith said. However, GetHELP is not for emergencies.

The district also offers Emotional Support & Self-Care Resources: The Virtual Center for Resilience. “It focuses on mental health and overall well-being,” Minichan said. “We recognize this is such a stressful time, so we developed resources for coping skills and relaxation as well as community resources and hotlines. It’s designed for students of all ages as well as parents and staff.”

Resources:

• 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
*In Spanish: 888-328-9454

• Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

• Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-7386 or text START to 678-678

• New Vista’s 24-hour help line: 800-928-8000

From Fayette County Public Schools

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