Plum students demand more attention to mental health issues

Several students from Plum Senior High School attended the April 26 school board meeting to ask for more resources to address mental health.

“After spending two and a half years of a modified upbringing – a hybrid schedule, not being able to see each other’s smiling faces, not having a normal high school experience, and losing two of our classmates – it’s easy to say that the students and staff have had a difficult and emotional time,” student council president Matt Diss told the council. “But would you all know this?

Diss’ comment focused on what he feels is a disconnect between students and Plum Borough School District officials. He said he’s only seen an administrator have a real conversation with students once, and he’s never seen a school board member during school hours.

“Maybe come visit what’s happening for us and the teachers before you vote on a policy or a change or a new curriculum,” Diss said.

Her statement was echoed by sophomore Hailey Boccieri, who said it was important to educate students, especially males, about mental health issues and break the stigma attached to them.

“We need to get people to go to the younger schools and tell them that not doing well is 100 per cent fine,” she said. “We have to tell the boys that they have the right to cry. They have the right to be upset. They don’t have to be so big and tough I won’t be upset. They should feel comfortable going to someone and talking about their feelings.

Hailey Drapcho, the school board’s student representative, said she spoke to classmates and the general perception was that officials could and should do more in the name of mental health. As something that could be improved, she specifically mentioned Rachel’s Challenge, her school’s anti-bullying and kindness promotion program,

“Many were telling me that they thought Rachel’s challenge was inadequate and didn’t meet the needs of high school students,” Drapcho said. “While the program may be more suitable and beneficial for younger students in the district, the content and activities do not appear to be as beneficial as they were intended for high school, where we must primarily and excessively emphasize student support.”

Superintendent’s Response

The program, founded by the father of the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, has been operating in Plum since January and addresses issues such as school violence, bullying, prejudice and self-harm. Prior to this, the district did not have a “systematic, research-based K-12 program(s) in place,” according to Superintendent Brendan Hyland.

“Our research and our discussions with other educators have strongly indicated that this could be very effective,” Hyland wrote in an email. “While we appreciate the opinions of students who have spoken, we believe it is far too early to say whether or not this is working as it was just implemented in January.

“Other feedback we are receiving from principals, counselors and primary/secondary students has been very positive, but we are hearing from students who have concerns,” the email continued. “As a district, we continually evaluate our practices using quantitative and qualitative data to identify opportunities for improvement. For example, the board has added questions to annual parent-student surveys related to Rachel’s Challenge and mental health services to get a broader perspective of all of our families. We want to make sure we have the full picture, and if this data warrants a change, we will make changes.

The district has added several resources in recent years, including hiring three social workers and two psychologists, launching a student assistance program, and having at least one school counselor in every building. Counselors and social workers present lessons in classrooms.

Resources to help families and students are listed on the district’s website and are posted on student computers and on every bathroom mirror. The district has also built new high school and middle school fitness centers, and is creating a new student wellness room.

“Mental Health Crisis”

While Hyland expressed his pride in his employees and how much they care about their students, he also acknowledged that there is still a lot to be done outside of the school district when it comes to youth mental health.

“There are countless interventions and assistance provided that many people will never be aware of, for privacy reasons,” he wrote. “We are doing a lot, but to be frank, we are facing a mental health crisis in this country. We have these students for about 6.5 hours for 182 days a year. Much more time is spent outside of school than inside our schools. However, we sincerely strive to help these children. We cannot do this by ourselves. We need the Borough, County, State and Federal governments.

“This is a problem that affects everyone. Our social workers, school counselors and families shared many concerns about our students. Finding and collaborating with external health care providers to address these mental health issues is very problematic. We have students who have been identified as having mental health issues, referred for help, and the family waits in the health and insurance system sometimes up to six months for an appointment, assuming let them get one. It is very frustrating.

Plum Borough mother and local educator, Jennifer Martinez, whose son recently passed away, shared her thoughts on what can be done to better equip schools when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

‘I think there should be screening questions in doctor’s offices for parents, and children from the age of 10 should fill them out at annual appointments,’ she said by email. , so doctors can “evaluate whether to recommend an appointment for a therapist to do an overall assessment. I believe these assessments could be done in schools every year, too, by students starting in fifth grade and parents in the mandatory start-of-year packets Schools would then be able to make recommendations to students to seek a comprehensive therapeutic assessment.

She offered other suggestions.

“I think the district needs to hold monthly parent meetings for parents to learn about mental health issues and services, a place where they can ask questions and get feedback from counselors about their child,” a- she writes. “I also think the district needs to start implementing mental health education at all levels in a developmentally appropriate way. The district should also open groups or club time for students to discuss what is going on with them, so students understand that not being OK is OK, and that their story is not finished.

Logan Carney is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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