Mental health resources must be top priority for U-46s, high school students say – Chicago Tribune

The U-46 school district needs to provide more mental health resources to high school students, but things are starting to look more positive overall as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to wane.

It was among the key points raised by several high school students during a presentation made at this week’s school board meeting.

Jessica Pearce, of Bartlett High School; Graham Hunt and Kylie Mertinat of South Elgin Secondary School; and Mariam Ali of Streamwood High School are four members of Superintendent Tony Sanders’ Student Advisory Council.

“Students desperately need more resources, especially as a result of the pandemic, many students are dealing with more anxiety, more depression,” said Pearce, who is also a counselor for school board students.

Student representatives attended the annual student summit on March 3, where approximately 200 attendees spoke about issues that are important to them and things they would like to see the district change, add or improve. At the board meeting, they shared the topics on which there was major consensus.

Among them was a need for more staff to help guide struggling students.

“Having just two to four social workers in schools with thousands of students is not enough,” Pearce said.

One beneficial thing that some schools are already using are QR codes on student cards and on posters, which instruct students on how to make appointments and access helpline phone numbers. in the event of a crisis. It was agreed that these efforts should be expanded, she said.

Pearce suggested the district do more outreach, perhaps via email, to let students know how to contact their respective social workers. Teachers could benefit from more training on how to recognize signs of mental health problems and how to make students feel willing to get help, she said. declared.

Ensuring student confidentiality when seeking help should remain a top priority, Pearce said.

Hunt said students would like to see therapeutic sensory rooms — the type currently used by students with special needs — made available to the general student body or for the district to create safe spaces for students to take breaks. .

He also suggested that schools hold information sessions for parents so they can learn more about mental health issues and related resources to help them.

Students also told the forum that they would like to see guidance counselors stay with a student for all four years of high school, Ali said. Additionally, planning for life beyond school and job shadowing are the kinds of things that could happen before students start high school, she said.

Regarding student life, Mertinat said, “It’s not necessarily that we lack extracurricular activities. It’s that we lack publicity for them.

To improve this, summit attendees suggested finding ways to better inform students of when activities are happening and make transportation resources available to those who want to participate, Mertinat said.

An open house earlier in the school year would help educate students about extracurricular activities available, and teachers should be more involved in promoting what is available, she said.

“With these activities, you want to encourage students to have fun in high school,” Mertinat said. “I think that’s a huge part of it. These activities can completely change your high school experience. I know it definitely improved mine.

District staff are already pursuing some of what was proposed, Sanders said, looking at how they can budget for an increase in the number of social work counselors available.

“We listen and we encourage our school leaders to listen to your voice, because you matter. You are our number one customer,” Sanders told the students.

He also agrees with the students about the need for school to be fun through extracurricular activities.

“School should be a place where there’s the academic side, but school should also be a warm, welcoming place where you feel safe and where you can have fun,” Sanders said. “I feel like the fun is starting to come back.”

“It is slowly but surely happening,” Hunt said.

Pearce said, “It’s really exciting to see people getting more involved and reuniting with their communities.”

Mike Danahey is a freelance writer for The Courier-News.

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