A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Students group suggests to KDE ways to improve schools’ attention to mental health

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) School Counselor Advisory Council (SCAC) and the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council (SAC) discussed the students’ advocacy work around mental health at the recent counselors’ meeting.

“It (has been) a couple tough years and school’s tough enough on students to begin with. We want to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to learning that allows them to rest their brain and truly work to better themselves mentally so they can better themselves academically,” said Roxanne Lockard, a recent graduate of Craft Academy (Great Crossing High School, Scott County).

In the fall of 2021, students on the SAC partnered with Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Kentucky’s regional education cooperatives, the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities at the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and the Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers to create the Student Mental Health Action Summits.

The roundtable summits were formed to hear from students directly and collect data that could be used to better address students’ mental health.

The students plan to present their findings to the Kentucky General Assembly Interim Joint Committee on Education this summer.

Ten events were held across the Commonwealth – nine in-person in education cooperative districts, and one virtual – with nearly 300 students attending overall.

At each event, student facilitators framed the issue being discussed for attendees and presented basic student mental health data.

Members of the SAC analyzed every response to the questions asked during the summits and came up with 10 recommendations to improve student mental health in Kentucky schools.

The recommendations are:

• Six excused mental health days per school year;
• Incorporating student voice into all levels of decision-making through tiered interventions and instructional methods;
• Allocating funding for a licensed mental health professional to be on school campuses at all times in every K-12 school;
• Peer mentoring for students who aren’t comfortable talking to an adult;
• Making suicide prevention materials and resources available in every classroom and administrative office, and implementing regularly updated suicide prevention curriculum at least twice a year;
• Requiring updated evidence-based and discussion-based mental health curriculum to foster a stigma-free environment;
• Using trauma-informed curriculum to be mindful and respectful when addressing the needs of students regarding eating disorders;
• Recognizing and respecting students’ preferred pronouns and using gender-inclusive language in schools;
• Requiring schools and/or districts to provide student mental health check-ins that allow students to express their emotions and needs confidentially at least once a month; and
• Scheduling time throughout the day and year to account for mental health and give academic and transitional breaks.

Sarah Akin, a school counselor representing Christian County, shared her excitement that KDE and Coleman followed the students’ lead on the initiative.

“It was so refreshing to think that if we could put the world in these kids’ hands, we’re going to be okay. It was great to hear their recommendations, their ideas, their thoughts.”

Students said that several of the recommendations could be implemented without legislative action, such as peer mentoring or mental health breaks.

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One Comment

  1. Harold A Maio says:

    We are so busy working to “foster a stigma free” mental health environment, that we have lost sight of the myriad ways in which we teach one another there is a stigma.

    We continue to ignore those teaching it. Worse, we act in complicity with them.

    Harold A Maio

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