Aug 09 2021
Data Analytics

Software Keeps Mental Health at the Forefront as Students Transition Back to Classrooms

GoGuardian Beacon analyzes students’ online activity and alerts schools when kids may need support.

The many disruptions of the pandemic created well-documented challenges for K–12 students as they continued their studies from home. Separation from peers, adapting to virtual classrooms and dealing with the anxiety around the crisis led to a mentally fraught year.

Many students will return to physical classrooms for the 2021–2022 school year, which may prove to be equally challenging. “This is going to be a different back to school than we’ve seen in so many ways, particularly when it comes to student mental health,” says Ellen Yan, general manager of Beacon, GoGuardian’s self-harm and suicide prevention offering.

With the pandemic far from over, it is hard to tell how the upcoming school year will affect students. Mental health support is more critical than ever. While social-emotional learning (SEL) is a powerful way to empower students during challenging times, tools like Beacon are key components of mental health support systems at schools.

DIVE DEEPER: GoGuardian offers tools to help educators keep K–12 students safe.

“There is data from a 2018 national survey that showed 9 out of 10 students with depressive symptoms will go online for help,” says Yan. Since students access the internet on school-issued devices, Beacon can detect concerning activity and flag struggling students. It makes the road ahead a little more predictable.

“We want to be there for our schools and our students to help intervene before a crisis,” says Yan. “If we can move that conversation even more upstream and get the right help to a student a little bit earlier in the process, we can be there for those who might be struggling in silence.”

Social-Emotional Learning in the Post-Pandemic School Year

The goal of SEL is to nurture intrapersonal skills that teach children how to navigate the world effectively — an especially critical skill in our current environment.

“There’s a lot coming at these students,” says Yan. Some children may not be eager to leave remote learning behind, and other students may feel sensory overload returning to a physical environment. Others still may need retraining in socializing skills, and educators could see trauma manifest in students in unexpected ways.

RELATED: Digital equity is necessary for meaningful social-emotional learning in the classroom.

SEL has always been critical for helping students connect with their emotions and impulses, develop empathy for others, navigate healthy relationships, and overcome challenges. Educators are keenly aware that students need SEL now more than ever before. As students work on building those skills over time, it can be difficult for educators to have visibility into which students need extra support. GoGuardian Beacon can give schools that visibility. The tool can identify students who are struggling in unseen ways.

Mental Health Experts and Machine Learning Come Together

Even before the pandemic, some students were using school-issued devices to look up concerning mental health topics such as self-harm and suicidal ideation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is one of three leading causes of death for adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19.

Informed by research from GoGuardian’s partners at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology, Beacon was designed with the guidance of mental health experts.

Driven by machine learning, the tool analyzes and monitors search engines, chats, social media posts, emails and web apps on school-issued devices in real time. It scans for words and phrases that are commonly associated with depression, self-harm and suicide. When risky behavior is detected, Beacon alerts preassigned school responders to the concerning activity.

Given the serious concerns about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health and well-being of children and teens, Beacon will be an especially useful part of a school or district’s response plan for the coming school year. Paired with a comprehensive student support plan that includes SEL instruction, students can be better supported as they adjust to the new normal of school life.

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