The Cherokee County School District (CCSD) serves 42,300 students in our community’s schools each day.
Given that total, three may not seem like a large number.
But, three is an enormous number for our CCSD family; it is the number of students we have lost this school year to suicide.
As you may have read in one of my previous articles, our superintendent of schools and school board have made suicide awareness and prevention, and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) top priorities.
They did this by creating a new leadership role focused on SEL, hiring the district’s first mental health counselors, and funding efforts by a cross-section of staff to develop suicide prevention and SEL solutions ranging from classroom lessons and school care teams to widespread staff training.
The superintendent’s committee, appointed to study what SEL should look like in our school district, made recommendations (online at http://bit.ly/ccsdsel) that already are being put to work in our schools.
Students in grades 5-12 participated in a survey this fall to help the SEL team better understand students’ current levels of SEL Core Competencies: Self-Awareness, Responsible Decision-Making, Relationship Skills, Social Awareness and Self-Management. The SEL team also has been interviewing advanced high school students, since that group nationally is experiencing increased levels of stress and suicide.
While there is much work to do to translate this data into classroom lessons and support services, several initial takeaways are important for all parents to know.
The first is a frightening lack of sleep among high school students, which research has shown is a top risk factor for suicide (others are mental illness, bullying, lack of empathy and toxic stress).
The surveyed students reported regularly choosing to sleep only four hours a night. Their reasons included opting to take a heavy load of advanced classes to earn college credit, better their chances of university acceptance, and win scholarships; high levels of extra-curricular activities for the same reasons; and the connectivity of cell phones and social media keeping them awake and online.
We’ll be doing our part to ensure students understand the importance of sleep for their well-being, but we need parents’ support as well.
Another take away from our school district’s SEL work so far is the high number of students who don’t view themselves as possessing resiliency, which we, as adults, know is critical to weather life’s ups and downs. This will be another topic embedded in classroom lessons and activities to help students.
What can you do as a parent to help strengthen your child’s resiliency? The American Psychological Association offers an excellent parent resource page at www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience, with advice based on the child’s age. Another valuable resource, always available to you, is our school counselors – call or email them if you need advice. They want to help ensure your child’s well-being.
By Barbara P. Jacoby, contributing writer and chief communications officer for the Cherokee County School District.