Two student suicides in early 2015 at Jonathan Alder Local Schools led the district to initiate a broad-based effort to address mental health and social problems within the community it serves.
Shawn Heimlich, director of student services at Alder, outlined those efforts and the work of the Community Support Coalition on Wednesday at the 8th National School Response Conference in Las Vegas.
The conference attracts school officials and first responders, as well as risk managers from a variety of businesses.
Heimlich shared data from the Community And Youth Collaborative Institute (CAYCI) school experience survey conducted by the district eight months after the 2015 suicides. It showed more than a third of Alder high school students surveyed had recently felt “sad” or “worried” about everything from their home life to sports and academics. The Ohio State University College of Social Work provided the survey form.
At the same time, the survey of Alder teachers showed only 5 percent were aware their students felt sad. Only 16 percent thought students were worried, Heimlich said.
In addition, the survey showed a stigma existed in the Plain City community about discussing mental health and depression.
Working with parents, the Plain City Police Department, local social service agencies and business leaders, Alder administrators initiated the JA Community Support Coalition to immediately improve the school experience for students.
This year, the district moved to also reduce emotional and psychological barriers to learning.
All the work was — and is — volunteer.
Heimlich said police and parents began monitoring social media for student posts that indicate sadness, anxiety or other concerns. The school is notified and the problem is quickly addressed.
A faculty reorganization allowed the district to hire a full-time student support specialist. Three social work interns from The Ohio State University are also on the Alder campus part-time.
In addition, students and families with social, mental health or financial needs are linked to proper service agencies in the area.
Jane Beathard is a contributing writer for The Advocate.