GCHS student survey looks at mental health and substance use in students
Glenda LaBarbara, assistant superintendent for the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education, said their annual student survey looks at a variety topics.
Initially it looked at drug use and bullying, LaBarbara said.
“Now it’s expanded to alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, even prescription drug use ... and school safety,” she said. “There’s even a mental health component now.”
The mental health section was new for the 2018-19 school year, LaBarbara said.
It asked questions like “are you feeling depressed?” and “have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” LaBarbara said.
“One question on emotional well-being asked ’did you ever feel sad or hopeless everyday?’ ” she said. “The district average is 37.8% and the state of Kansas is 31%, so we’re a little higher on the percentage of kids that feel depressed.”
The survey then breaks down that percentage even further, LaBarbara said. It breaks it down by by grade — sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th — and then by male and female students.
The data found that female students have a higher rate of self-reported depression than male students, LaBarbara said. The data tells the school where it needs to focus its intervention strategies.
“That’s what this survey really does provide for us,” she said. “It gives us a way to focus what we’re doing ... trying to reach as many kids as possible.”
In the past year or so, there has been a higher number of students reporting they are depressed or are considering self-harm, LaBarbara said. It has been gradually climbing.
One way the school board has been combating the growth is through a grant with the state for a mental health pilot, LaBarbara said.
The money from the grant allowed them to partner with Compass Behavioral Health to bring a therapist into the school setting to work with students who “need that level of support,” LaBarbara said.
This way students don’t have to be checked out and miss school for their appointments, she said.
“Our initial data on that is that 55% of those students have show an increase or improved academic performance,” she said. “Fifty-four percent have demonstrated improved attendance and behavior. It's definitely making a difference.”
Compass was originally at five schools in the district in the 2018-19 school year but is now in seven schools, LaBarbara said.
LaBarbara said another way they’re trying to address students needs is through the creation of a social-emotional advisory council this school year.
The council brings together 15 community agencies, counselors, teachers and administrators from the school district to look at data and find resources to help out at schools.
“The committee has been wonderful,” she said.
Roy Cessna, public information coordinator for Garden City Public Schools, said the committee is a focus of the school board this year.
“That committee has really helped to move a lot of the initiatives that we're focusing on, trying to change the direction of the numbers we're seeing in these reports to be more positive,” he said. “Instead of going up, through this committee hopefully the numbers will be going down on a lot of those issues we have seen.”
In addition to mental health initiatives, the committee is also looking into further education for students, teacher and parents on e-cigarettes.
There has been a big jump in e-cigarettes usage in the past couple of years, LaBarbara said.
“Last year we had 60 tobacco referrals first semester at the high schools,” she said. “Then second semester it dropped to 17.”
The key to the drop was education, Cessna said.
“We implemented the campaign to really educate not only the students but the parents as well, because parents didn't understand the issues that were related to the e-cigarettes and vaping,” he said. “Once we rolled that campaign out throughout the district ... we did see a dramatic drop in the referrals for tobacco use.”
While the number of referrals dropped after the campaign, the number increased first semester of the 2019-20 school year.
Continuing education about the dangers of e-cigarettes is important, LaBarbara said.
“That education component has to be ongoing — we can't let up because the minute we let up then it starts to come back up again,” she said.