As the superintendent of a school district, I am given many opportunities to meet and talk to people from all over. It seems like every time I talk to someone; the conversation eventually leads to how busy their lives are, they are stressed out from the everyday responsibilities, and they just can’t seem to find the time to catch up.
The definition of stress for most people tends to focus on the negative feelings and emotions it produces. Our children are feeling the pressure as well, and view stress as a major component of their lives. It is important for us as educators, parents, and community members to teach our children that even though some situations are hard, there are ways to work through and de-stress.
A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found that U.S. teens are more stressed out than adults. 30% of teens reported feeling sad or depressed because of stress, and 31% felt overwhelmed. Another 36% said that stress made them tired and 23% said it made them skip meals.
Although these statistics are alarming, there is hope. I recently read an article from the December 2018, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Education Update that identified the Five D’s of DESTRESSING. These strategies are vital skills that everyone can implement in their lives.
The first strategy is to Distract from It. Stress can instantly trigger fight, flight, or freeze, our bodies naturally want to regulate our hormones and bring us “back to normal.” This is where a distraction can help. Taking a 10-minute walk, engaging in a fun activity, or listening to your favorite music are just a few examples. When we engage in something else, it can shift our thoughts away from the stressful rumination and allow our bodies and brains a chance to regulate.
Deal with It is the second strategy. Although we struggle facing the issue or problem we are dealing with, sometimes it is necessary in order to find peace and relieve the stress. Stress management is defined as taking charge of lifestyle, thoughts, emotions, and the way you deal with problems. By dealing with the stress we can face the problem head-on and find ways to apply conflict resolution and look for a solution.
The third strategy is to Dispute your Distortions. Sometimes a stressful situation is made worse by our thought patterns. All-or-nothing thinking: something is either great or terrible, with no in-between, or letting one bad thought lead to another. Psychologist William James said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” If you find yourself in this situation it is important to recognize and reduce biased or distorted thinking.
Discuss It is the fourth strategy. Although it sounds simple, it really is one of the best possible things you can do. Talking with a supportive individual may provide new perspectives and ideas. This year, Sevier School District has hired five mental health specialists to work in our schools. These specialists will be a great resource and avenue for students who are trying to work through stressful situations.
The last strategy is Develop Frontal Control. The human brain is amazing and is built with an emotional control sector. It creates action to help you survive. Your frontal lobe-the logical processing sector- acts as the break pedal. It helps you evaluate your situation and take more rational action. Even though we can’t stop stress responses from activating, we can strengthen our ability to slow them down through deep breathing, mindful meditation, and other calming focus strategies, like counting backward from ten. When we practice these strategies, we are able to activate our emotional “brake pedal.”
Stress is a multi-faceted problem and can’t be entirely eliminated. Everyone including students, educators, parents and community members must acknowledge their role and work together to reduce it. It is vital to develop healthy habits, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills so that our students are able to face stressful situations with strategies for stress management and optimism for a bright future.
To stay up to date with initiatives and strategies that we are working on concerning emotional health and support, check out our webpage www.seviersd.org or follow us on social media. My Twitter handle is @CadeDoug.
Sevier School District Emotional Safety/Culture Initiatives
Safe Schools Department
School Based Mental Health Coordinators:
Sevier School District has hired and implemented a School Based Mental Health Counseling program. At this time 5 (five) Mental Health Coordinators/Therapists have been hired district wide to help students on a daily basis dealing with such student issues as resiliency, self-esteem, emotional safety, anxiety, etc. Our coordinators will work with whole classrooms, small groups and on occasion individual students. SSD School Coordinators will help provide students and parents with additional resources outside of the school if necessary.
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS): District wide we are implementing this by adhering to research based principles that include:
-establishing school-wide positive behavior expectations
-systematically rewarding good behavior
-identifying students in need of additional support
-providing targeted interventions to students struggling behaviorally and/or academically
-providing opportunities for parent and community involvement
-collecting and analyzing data to drive school improvement decisions
-Tools that assist us in this process are Educators Handbook, SIS, PBIS World, etc.
WhyTry: This is a nationally renowned, evidence-based program designed to promote skills and attitudes that increase students’ social and school success. The WhyTry Program is a resilience education curriculum that provides simple, hands-on solutions for dropout prevention, violence prevention, truancy reduction, and increased academic success.
Inner Explorer: Inner Explorer program is a series of daily 5-10-minute audio-guided mindfulness practices. The program focuses on key areas of development, bringing mindfulness to education and helping students prepare for learning. Daily practice teaches kids the practical techniques to appropriately handle negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger and more. Inner Explorer offers programs for all age-groups (PreK-12) that help students with the following themes:
-Discovering Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
-Learning Awareness of Senses
-Using Thought and Emotional Regulation
-Developing Compassion and Connection
-Promoting Social Emotional Learning
HOPE Squads: These are students in all secondary schools that are trained in suicide awareness to assist and help peers who are suffering from depression or may be suicidal. It incorporates training modules that take an active approach in teaching/learning the warning signs of suicide, reporting potential suicidal behavior, and supporting students who have already received help. Hope Squads are the eyes and ears of the school’s student body that have been identified by their peers as someone that is a good listener. Teams are led by teachers and counselors who have also been trained. The goal is to refer the students to the counseling office or another adult who can assist them in getting the support they need.
ADAPT: ADAPT (Advancing Decision Making and Problem Solving for Teens) is a small-group intervention for middle and high school students who are at risk for substance use, aggression, truancy, poor school performance, and depressive moods. The program's 12 sessions teach fundamental skills such as:
Effective Problem Solving and Communication Skills
Refusal Skills and Anger Management
Anti-Bullying Efforts: As part of our PBIS/school climate efforts, and in partnership with the USOE and the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition, all schools have implemented bullying prevention strategies and/or programs. The specific methods chosen were based on office disciplinary, SHARP, and student report data at each school. In addition to Second Step and Prevention Dimensions, other examples of these include:
Bee-ing Builders: This is an elementary curriculum designed to teach students positive character traits and strategies to combat or prevent bullying.
Me2We: This is a middle level whole school peer curriculum program where students focus on developing a culture of kindness within the school. The program has lasting effects on the school as a whole promoting the ideas of kindness, acceptance, and tolerance of others. The positive and encouraging climate of the school is hugely due to the lessons, activities, and other reminders offered to students in regards to developing self-esteem, positive relationships with others, and working hard to find personal success and encouraging the success of others.
7 - Mindsets: This is a secondary level program that teaches students life skills. 7-Mindsets provides a framework that distills extensive research into the nature of happiness and success, providing the language, lessons and community-wide operating system for social and emotional learning (SEL) to succeed.
Anti-Bullying Assemblies: These are targeted for the whole student body and designed to increase awareness and motivation to make a difference. Josh Drean, Gabe Adams and Braxton Nielson are examples of these assemblies.
Peer Programs: At the secondary level, established groups such as Hope Squads and Student Government have taken on the Anti-Bullying cause and include it in what they are doing throughout the year. These students promote positive relationships and watch for students at risk or aggressors and report them to school officials. They also spearhead activities to increase unity and acceptance. Training for these students has been provided through the Utah Anti-Bully Coalition.
10 Acts of Kindness: This is an elementary school program. Students receive superhero status and are recognized for showing 10 acts of kindness.
SafeUT: Students concerned about the safety of themselves or others are reaching out for help. The SafeUT Crisis & Safety Tip Line App was brought online districtwide in April 2016. All students in grades 6-12 are trained about how and when to use the SafeUT services. Students in crisis can connect with counselors 24 hours a day by using the mobile app or calling 1-800-273-8255 to talk about relationship issues, drug problems, thoughts of suicide, etc. Safety tips submitted are screened by crisis workers for immediate intervention and then passed along to district/school officials for follow up. Tips can be reported anonymously and may include, but are not limited to: suicide, bullying, cyber-bullying, harassment, hazing, threats, and substance abuse. We have received valuable tips allowing us to respond and intervene in a timely manner to prevent, properly investigate, act upon, restore, and maintain safety. High school counselors review this app frequently with students.
QPR Training: We have 2 district trainers that work throughout the community to train educators, staff, students, community groups, religious groups, etc. on the Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) method of suicide prevention. After 2 years of teaching QPR in Sevier County, we have trained many Gatekeepers, and people in Connect Postvention. We have several staff who have also been trained in postvention. In December of 2018 all teachers, administrators, and counselors attended a QPR and Suicide Prevention training.
PREPaRE Training: This is an emergency response training that includes a mental health component that all of our counselors have been trained in.
Mental Health Services: Through Counseling Grants, our students can access mental health services for situations that are affecting their social/emotional well being, school behavior and/or academics. A partnership in association with Central Utah Counseling provides cost-free opportunities for qualifying students to get the support needed during school time. This can be accessed through administrators and/or counselors. A partnership grant with the Children’s Justice Center is also available for those who may not qualify for the other programs.
Botvin Lifeskills: The Botvin LifeSkills Middle and High School programs is a groundbreaking substance abuse and violence prevention program based on more than 35 years of rigorous scientific research. Proven to be the most effective evidence-based program used in schools today, LifeSkills Training is comprehensive, dynamic, and developmentally designed to promote positive youth development. In addition to helping kids resist drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, the LifeSkills Training Middle School program also effectively supports the reduction of violence and other high-risk behaviors.
NOVA: The N.O.V.A (Nurturing Opportunities, Values and Accountability) Principles program teaches powerful, comprehensive principles-based decision making that goes far beyond other prevention and education programs. The curriculum includes lessons that help youth and parents deal with drugs, accountability and healthy choices, anger management, internet safety, self-esteem, bullying and media issues.
Why N.O.V.A. Principles?
The N.O.V.A. Principles program teaches powerful & comprehensive principles-based decision making that goes far beyond other prevention and education programs. The curriculum includes lessons that help youth and parents deal with Drugs, Gangs, Accountability, Making Good Choices, Anger Management, Internet Safety, Self Esteem, Bullying, and Media issues.
School Counseling & Mental Health Systems of Support: Our school counselors have an “open-door policy” for responsive services. They know this takes precedence over other needs. Counselors have attended multiple trainings/conferences in the areas of suicide prevention, mental health, emergency services, intervention strategies, abuse and trauma, etc. Counselors have been trained in various suicide prevention programs/strategies, including QPR, as well as other trainings. Sevier School District has also actively increased counseling services throughout the district including in our elementary schools. In addition to this a couple of our elementary schools are using school funding to pilot efforts to include social/emotional intervention aides on staff.
SHARP Survey: In March 2017, students in grades 6-12 participated in the SHARP Survey. This survey is administered every two years, gathering data that is used to continually to support and improve efforts to combat suicide, bullying, drug and tobacco use, etc. within our district and communities.
Prevention Dimensions: This is Utah’s Safe and Drug Free Schools Curriculum. All elementary (K-6) and select Junior High teachers in our district have been trained and teach this annually. This has been the foundation prevention curriculum in Sevier School District since 1983.
Positive Professional Development for Teachers: Sevier School District is always looking for and implementing positive professional development opportunities for staff and faculty dealing with improving school culture, compassion fatigue, student success, positive effect size, etc. We feel if we can give our teachers and staff the right tools and training it will transfer to our students social/emotional development, academic success and improved coping skills. Mental health professionals are always scheduled to present at our annual professional learning conference.
Refocus Groups: We have a refocus room coordinator in most of the elementary schools. The program was implemented to monitor students in various activities for the purpose of providing a safe and positive learning environment. The refocus coordinator responds productively to conflict situations with students for the purpose of de-escalating student behavior and directing the situation toward a positive outcome.
School Resource Officers (SROs): SROs are sworn law enforcement officers who are specially selected and trained to promote safety within schools. SROs can fulfill a variety of roles: Preventing and responding to school-based crime; fostering positive relationships among law enforcement, educators, and youth; and helping to promote a positive school climate.
Zones of Regulation: A curriculum designed to foster self regulation and control available in every school in the district. The Zones framework provides strategies to teach students to become more aware of and independent in controlling their emotions and impulses, manage their sensory needs, and improve their ability to problem solve conflicts.
Second Step (grades K-8): This is a nationally renowned, evidence-based program designed to promote skills and attitudes that increase students’ social and school success. It provides a foundation for creating a safe, respectful learning environment. Second Step is implemented by counselors and refocus specialists in our elementary schools.
Anxiety Awareness Community Focus Group: Community members, business owners, clergy representatives, city and county representatives, and the Sevier School District Crisis Response Team attend Anxiety Awareness Meetings to implement the Community Suicide Prevention Model and improve community involvement and awareness.
Emergency Response Team: Sevier School District has a Crisis Response Team which include District administration, principals, school counselors, community leaders and members of the community.
National Bereavement Guidelines: In the event of a school crisis, Sevier School District Emergency Response Team uses the National School Crisis and Bereavement guidelines. These guidelines are designed to help school administrators, teachers, and crisis team members respond to the needs of students and staff after a suicide has impacted the school environment as well as when an individual student’s life may be impacted by a suicide within the family.
Sevier County Suicide Prevention Tips: The tip of the month is produced through the Central Utah Counseling Center. The information includes prevention events and tips from many agencies throughout Sevier County.
School-Based Mental Health Webinar: The Utah School Board of Education provides School-Based Mental Health webinars for counselors and other student support professionals each month.
Juvenile Justice Intervention Programs: The School-based Outreach Program provides evidence-based services to youths to improve attendance and academic performance, teach problem solving, decision making, goal setting and resiliency skills in the school and in the community, tutor participating youth, establish collaborative relationships with allied agencies, and mentor youth in homes, where skills are taught to the family. Juvenile Justice Service representatives work with secondary students one on one and in small groups weekly.
Mindful Schools: Mindful Schools is one of the key players in the movement to integrate mindfulness into the everyday learning environment of K-12 classrooms. The organization has trained educators, parents, and mental health professionals who work with youth. The Mindful schools program is used daily in our elementary and middle schools to work toward lowering student toxic stress, emotion and mood regulation, sleep, and learning readiness.
Best Practices in School Mental Wellness Grant: Salina Elementary School was selected along with only one other school in a region of several western states to receive intensive technical assistance and training through the Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer. Administrators, Counselors and Teachers will receive hands-on best practices training on working with students with social-emotional issues.
You Got This! Suicide Prevention Program: This program helps educate students and teachers on saving lives to suicide loss, focusing on inputs not outputs. YGT’s mission is to build and empower healthy life choices. YGT works together with organizations like SafeUT using connection as the best prevention to let students know that it’s ok to not be ok.
Multiple Anxiety Awareness Coalitions and Committees: These anxiety awareness groups are being formed and are dedicated to working towards finding solutions for those who are struggling with anxiety and depression in our community. SVAAC - Sevier Valley Anxiety Awareness Coalition, BHN- Intermountain Sevier Valley Hospital Behavioral Health Network, CUCTC- Central Utah Communities that Care, etc. Are all working together to provide information and resources to those who are in desperate need of help.
Multiple Assemblies and Presentations: We are always looking at investing in assemblies and presentations to deliver proactive, positive information to help our students and parents deal with bullying, suicide, prevention, etc. to help our community prevent and cope with the tough issues that face our students, i.e; Dr. Christy Kane - Social Media, Greg Hudnal - Suicide, Shailee Syddall - Kindness, Braxten Nielson - Resiliency, etc.