The final article in our three-part series on mental health in Lowell Area Schools concludes with what is being seen in high school students. As this group nears adulthood, there can be more social, academic, and extracurricular stressors contributing to mental health.
High School Students
There are three counselors at Lowell High School (LHS). RJ Boudro, Tory Parsons, and Nicole Deckrow have a combined experience of 36 years working at the high school. Each oversees approximately 400 students. The group provides proactive mental health lessons to all students when they enter 9th grade. They also support proactive school initiatives through be nice week, and individual classroom activities, Positive Behavior Intervention Supports (PBIS), all of which provide positive interactions for all students. Students in need of greater support will receive more individualized interactions to include family and sometimes community services.
Counselors at LHS look at challenges students face as “unique and great” to them, therefore no one challenge is above another. However, as with elementary school and middle school students, they have seen a lot of students struggle with stress and anxiety. They also see social media, screen time, cellphones and being spread too thin through involvement in numerous activities has changed the struggles students face in recent years.
High school counselors feel students have an understanding of mental illness but lack the coping skills needed to deal with them. Boudro, Parsons, and Deckrow work to provide students with strategies to alleviate stress and anxiety through methods such as self-regulation, mindfulness, and looking at a “whole child” health picture.
The counseling group at this level suggests students evaluate their daily choices and look to identify causes of stress. Personal coping techniques such as exercise, journaling, relaxation techniques and positive relationships with peers and adults contribute to daily happiness. High school counselors recommend parents of children in this age group do the following to help students face, handle, and overcome mental health challenges.
- Open communication
- Help them process struggles but do not solve their problems for them
- Protect them from over-committing to too many activities
- Help students seek out counseling as a proactive approach. Counseling is a positive thing!
- Set screen time boundaries at home
- Carve out family time
- Accept them for who they are
Achieving Productive Mental Health
Mental health doesn’t mean evaluating things when something bad is happening in life. Being aware of good and bad mental health habits promotes an overall understanding of warning signs and when help is needed. LAS is doing what it can to contribute to the positive mental health of students and offer resources for those who need individual help.
According to Fowler, at the elementary school level, a program called Second Steps is used. This social and emotional learning curriculum teaches lessons that help kids take an active role in their social-emotional growth. Some buildings are also using True Success which provides videos and other resources teachers can use to engage in discussion with students. All buildings use PBIS to talk about desired behaviors. This also gives teachers a common language throughout the district. Respect, responsibility, and safety are the core components of this program.
Fowler indicates it’s often teachers who are the first to identify when students are struggling. When the school is unable to meet the needs of students referrals are made to outside agencies. He goes on to say that parents are welcome to talk to their child’s teacher, principal, or school counselor if they feel the need for support during the school day.
There is also a need to train teachers and staff when it comes to dealing with students’ mental health. One person from the district is being trained in Restorative Practices. Martino has worked with LHS staff on dealing with students who have experienced trauma. Bushnell and Cherry Creek has received trauma informed schools training. “We are excited to train and empower staff through restorative practices in upcoming years.” says Fowler.
Martino suggests the job of parents and caregivers is to teach and not discipline and that letting kids fail will strengthen their mental health. His advice is to plan one dedicated family night a week. These nights can be as involved as going to an arcade to as simple as playing a board game or working on a puzzle at home. The important thing is to spend time together as a family. This and other traditions will encourage good mental health behaviors at home and in turn will promote an overall healthy outlook in all aspects of life. Martino says starting at home and consistency are the keys to good mental health for people of all ages.
Mental health can be complex and even frustrating, especially for counselors who sometimes work with kids for extended periods of time without seeing much change. Often simple strategies, which start at home, can be used to meet healthy being goals. Parents and educators as well as staff at all LAS buildings can work together to address individual needs. The mental health of students throughout LAS is important. While educators’ main role is not to treat mental health issues, those on staff at all buildings with a background in counseling can help guide and provide outside resources to help individuals and families strive toward positive mental health.