TU presentation focuses on students' mental health | News | ahwatukee.com – Ahwatukee Foothills News

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Updated: April 3, 2022 @ 8:15 am
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A large group of district mental health experts updated the Tempe Union Governing Board last week on what’s being done to address students and staff’s social emotional well being. (YouTube)

A large group of district mental health experts updated the Tempe Union Governing Board last week on what’s being done to address students and staff’s social emotional well being. (YouTube)
The video that flashed onto different Tempe Union students said it all.
Some students said variations of “the last couple years have been hard, really, really hard.”
And others in different tones of voice reassured their classmates, “You’re not alone.”
The video underscored the complex challenge of addressing students’ social-emotional well-being that was the subject of a two-hour presentation by administrators and counselors at last week’s Tempe Union Governing Board meeting.
Prior to 2020, teens’ mental health already had been gaining more attention in the wake of pressures brought on by factors ranging from the drive to succeed academically to social-media-driven stress to substance abuse.
But then came COVID-19 with its massive disruptions in the normal school year and increased isolation for many students.
A variety of district personnel discussed how Tempe Union is trying to get its arms around the multi-faceted problem with an equally multi-faceted effort.
That problem and its complexity have been highlighted by two students’ deaths by suicide this school year – one at Desert Vista and the other at McClintock High – and what Governing Board member Armando Montero called a puzzling disconnect among many students.
“I’ve taken the time to try and figure out what the sentiment is around with our students and staff and what that feeling is and there’s a lot of feelings of a disconnect,” he said. “I don’t know where that disconnect comes from…I think when we talk about especially supporting those students they aren’t going to have red flags and aren’t showing those signs.
He noted that even with the systems the district has in place to address students who show signs of significant stress, there is a need to “figure out ways that we can support those students where those signs aren’t going to show up.”
“I think that comes with the culture that we have on campus,” Montero continued. “There’s that fear of talking about suicide and death and it’s a very touchy subject.”
The effort to address students’ well-being includes “lots of different trainings,” said Robin Afinowich, a Tempe Care 7 trauma and resiliency trainer.
That training includes “information on understanding adverse childhood experiences, particularly during the wake of COVID and how that affects our youth or families in our community” and understanding “the struggle that we’re having with mental health in the community.”
Ron Denne, Jr., district coordinator of social emotional wellness, explained, “We’ve really worked collaboratively to try to get our school teams to meet regularly to start talking about kids and just getting around the table and having those conversations.”
Stacy White, director of instructional services, explained how another aspect of the district’s approach involves the development of “systems to be able to track our students’ needs and their progress and systems to be able to analyze our data.”
“That has really assisted us in targeting the specific prevention or the remediation of interventions for these students, academically and socially, emotionally,” she said.
Another aspect involves crisis teams and threat assessments that help identify students who may be at a particularly critical point in their life where they may constitute a threat to themselves or others.
Speakers explained how in hiring behavior interventionists, the district has made sure that they have academic backgrounds in mental health and mental health training.
The effort also involves adapting more “restorative justice” approaches to student discipline issues. For example, a student caught with drugs on campus faces a 45-day suspension might be offered only a 10-day suspension if they agree to go through counseling.
Some schools, including Mountain Pointe, have specific days set aside for special mentoring.
Mountain Pointe Principal Tomika Banks discussed her school’s 17th annual Women’s Mentor Day held March 2 where as many as 200 female students met with women from the community representing different walks of life.
“This year, we had entrepreneurs,” Banks said. “It’s great to be able to work with these young ladies and really show them where we’ve all come from so that they can see a little piece of us and they don’t just see that, ‘hey, she’s the principal’ but they get to see ‘oh, she walked this walk too…how can I emulate that or become that?’”
“It’s wonderful to watch them really grow and flourish in this and bond with one another,” Banks said, adding the girls also created vision boards that outlined a potential path for their future development.
Tempe Union counselor Dawn Milovich praised teachers for their efforts to be more attuned to students who may need some special intervention.
“It’s really understood across the campuses that this is everybody’s business,” Milovich said.
Denne said that mental health is being addressed on a large scale on campuses with assemblies but also in smaller groups, partly with the help of different student clubs.
Some students themselves are enthusiastically embracing the effort to help their classmates.
Mountain Pointe senior Sadie Goldman is the president of the Bring Change2Mind Club and told the board through a prepared statement how her group has been doing different things to ease students’ stress such as vision boards, stress balls and painting.
“In February, we successfully conducted Bring Change2Mind Week, which highlighted collaborative power,” she said. “Throughout the week, students participated in de-stigmatizing mental illness by signing the Bring Change2Mind Pledge, sharing solutions for improving our school climate.”
Panelists also discussed the “warm hand-off” of pairing students with adults who have had similar experiences.
Board President Brian Garcia said he was especially concerned about the efforts being made to address the social-emotional health of non-English speakers and LGBTQ students. Assistant Superintendent Sean McDonald said, “We need to continue to work on that. But again, as we continue to build a safe environment for all I think we’ll be able to match those students up with our staff better.
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