Oct 03 2022

Q&A: Tech Tools Continue to Support Schools’ Mental Health Efforts

Districts can use GoGuardian’s Beacon platform to identify K–12 students who may be silently struggling.

Student mental health is in a state of crisis, with 70 percent of school districts reporting an increase in the number of students seeking mental health services as the 2021-2022 school year came to a close, The Washington Post reports.

Schools are looking to address the situation: There’s been an almost 26 percent increase in social-emotional learning tools purchased during the last school year compared with the year before. But more can be done, especially when schools focus on students’ primary modes of self-expression: their devices.

EdTech talked to GoGuardian’s Beacon Strategic Solutions Engineer Kevin Dorsey — a former school administrator himself — about how a modernized approach can support K–12 mental health programs.

DISCOVER: Find solutions from GoGuardian for supporting students' mental health in K–12 schools.

EDTECH: What trends are school districts seeing in student mental health?

DORSEY: There’s a growing national crisis in student mental health, with advisories from both the Centers for Disease Control and the surgeon general. The CDC reports that suicide is the second-highest cause of death for children ages 10 to 14, and 20 percent of children ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition.

We do know the pandemic affected students. Approximately 37 percent of high school students surveyed by the CDC said they felt their mental health was not good most or all of the time during the pandemic. So, there is a growing concern in this area.

Additionally, many schools are facing shortages of counselors and on-staff mental health professionals. There is a need for additional support to identify students who may be struggling and could benefit from mental health services.

EDTECH: What is GoGuardian’s Beacon, and how does it help keep students safe?

DORSEY: Beacon monitors activity on students’ devices, where they tend to be more open. They’re using their devices to access many types of websites, including ones that provide information on how to commit self-harm, as well as websites offering help and support.

DISCOVER: Data analytics tools show ed tech’s impact on students.

As a component of a school’s overall crisis prevention program, Beacon’s machine-learning model can analyze searches or content in Google Docs, for example, and alert districts when a student’s online activity indicates a risk of suicide or self-harm to help uncover those who may be silently suffering.

Beacon gives schools better visibility into what students are doing on their devices so they can see who is struggling. It alerts districts to students’ behaviors that could pose a risk to themselves or others.

EDTECH: What can K–12 IT leaders do with the insights Beacon provides?

DORSEY: Beacon notifies designated staff members about activity that indicates a risk of suicide, self-harm or possible harm to others. It uses machine learning to predict what level of risk a student may be at, categorizing alerts into one of five phases of suicide risk.

There is expertise to support this: We built the machine learning in consultation with researchers and professionals, including both the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Association of Suicidology.

Schools can also use GoGuardian’s 24/7 team. Those that do will have a dedicated U.S.-based team of safety support specialists who review “active planning” alerts, the most severe level. If the specialists deem an alert credible, they will begin an escalation, calling out to designated staff members.

Click the banner to discover how educators and IT teams are coming together this school year.

EDTECH: What are some best practices for school districts implementing this platform?

DORSEY: The first thing is to have a response protocol established that spells out which designated staff members will receive notifications and what actions they will take to address alerts. Once the protocol is in place, district staff will need training on it.

You also want to make sure you’re tailoring the protocol to your district’s specific needs, based on available resources. Some administrators don’t want to see a 4 a.m. alert until the next day. Others want to be notified immediately, or they will use our 24/7 service as their around-the-clock team.

It’s also important to consider community planning. The entire staff should know how Beacon works, not just the designated members receiving notifications. The students and parents should also know. The more transparent you can be about what Beacon does, the more effective you will be in identifying students who need help.

KEEP READING: What does social-emotional learning have to do with IT?

EDTECH: Overall, how does Beacon serve school districts now and into the future?

DORSEY: When Beacon is used as a part of an overall crisis prevention program, our goal is to get information to the designated staff at the school as quickly as possible, to allow staff to react with the appropriate protocols and to ultimately help students who may be silently struggling.

GoGuardian is constantly enhancing Beacon by improving and expanding its machine learning to better support school personnel.

By notifying staff about students’ online activity that indicates a risk of suicide, self-harm or possible harm to others, we empower schools to better support their students and keep all kids safe.

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