What’s being done to address students’ mental wellness?

Welcome to the School Zone, WTOP’s weekly feature about the latest topics and trends in education across the D.C. region.

How DC-area school systems are addressing students’ mental wellness

What it is: School leaders in Prince William County, Virginia, the state’s second largest school system, were briefed last week on an update on the county’s “Heals” initiative.

As a result of the pandemic and the school closures that came with it, the county launched the campaign aimed at focusing on student and staff emotional well-being.

The county has 350 social and emotional learning coaches, who are school employees such as teachers, counselors and librarians, trained to work with students and staff.

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Rebekah Schlatter, the county’s director of college, career and student support, said employees “best suited to address the unfinished social and emotional growth of our students are sitting in our schools every single day.”

What it means: School systems across the region are focused not only on helping students catch up academically in the years following the pandemic, but also on students’ general well-being.

Prince William schools, Schlatter said, have about 500 mental health professionals serving students. That includes a “support corps” of 50 school-based professionals who worked with 84 students between March and May 2022, according to a school board presentation.

Last summer, the school system also said it made 1,000 calls to students and parents and guardians who “needed further support to reengage with PWCS.”

Broadly, the school system said it is working to make mental health professionals available to students and ensure teachers and other school staff receive sufficient training.

In the current school year, the county said nearly 50,000 students in grades 3-12 responded to the Student Social Emotional Needs Assessment, used to determine which students have the greatest need.

The first division-wide needs assessment was launched in 2020.

Regional snapshot: In nearby Fairfax County, school board members recently unveiled a plan to provide mental health services this year.

Superintendent Michelle Reid said a telemental health group, paid for with funding in this year’s budget, will provide sessions with therapists for high school students.

About 30% of the nearly 31,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students who responded to the Fairfax County Youth Survey last winter said they experienced stress for “most or all” of the prior month. About 38% of those students “reported feeling so sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row in the past year that they stopped doing some usual activities.”

In Montgomery County, Maryland, school officials said they hired a social worker for each of the county’s high schools and are opening wellness centers for high school students aimed at supporting mental health.

In Arlington, schools have psychologists and social workers.

An Alexandria City Council report said mental health professionals have been added to city schools.

Talking points: “When the pandemic occurred, we quickly saw that we had a large percent of our student population experiencing an unanticipated adverse childhood experience that we in the school-based mental health field never expected,” Schlatter, in Prince William County, said. “In short, we never planned for this.”

By the numbers
Some data that caught my eye this week.

Students walk out: The student-led group Pride Liberation Project estimates over 12,000 students across 100 schools walked out of class earlier this week in protest of proposed state policies that impact transgender students.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has defended the changes.

Thousands of comments have been posted on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall’s website. The guidelines would go into effect after a 30-day public comment period that started Sept. 26.

What Scott’s Reading

  • Advisory committees created to help assess subject areas in Maryland’s Blueprint education plan [Maryland Matters]
  • 1st Loudoun Co. school ombudsperson aims to ‘really truly listen’ to help resolve concerns [WTOP]
  • Report: More background, reference checks after Fairfax Co. school counselor dismissal [WTOP]
  • Masks to be optional in classrooms at Georgetown University [WTOP]
  • U-Md. to dedicate dorm named for Black students who broke barriers on campus [Washington Post]
  • Transgender teacher, Prince George’s school district settle lawsuit [WTOP]

Field Trip 

Here’s a fun thought ahead of the weekend.

Football bye week: Thankfully, Miami football has a bye week after a loss to Middle Tennessee State last weekend. Down time with family and friends is all that’s on tap.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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