Students call for more mental health resources, time to focus on wellness
On Wednesday, students at Montgomery County Public Schools called for more support staff in schools, scheduling flexibility and time off to deal with mental health stressors.
County Council Member Tom Hucker and student board member Hana O’Looney led a town hall forum on Wednesday.
For months, MCPS has been trying to hire 50 social workers to address the mental health issues some students described Wednesday. O’Looney said of those 50, seven were hired.
She and Lynne Harris, a school board member on the call, said Wednesday that there is not only regional but also national demand for social workers in school systems.
“We are all fighting and competing for the same limited human capital,” O’Looney said.
Chris Cram, a spokesperson for MCPS, confirmed O’Looney’s statement in an email Wednesday – that seven social workers had been hired out of the 50 vacant positions.
“Competition and availability are important factors, since the pandemic the need for these types of services has increased dramatically,” Cram wrote.
O’Looney and other members of the Board of Education have recommended other solutions, such as funding more telehealth services.
During Wednesday’s forum, school staff members and county officials discussed mental health resources currently available to MCPS students, including people and programs.
A student asked if MCPS officials plan to budget for more social workers and school psychologists for the next budget cycle.
Harris said that since they can’t fill the current 50 positions, school district officials and county partners need to look for creative ways to help students in school every day.
“I’m really, really interested in having a really broad and open conversation, especially with our county partners,” Harris said. “To see what we can do with the resources we have in dollars, given the reality of the resources we have in people, and those two things don’t necessarily match right now.”
Students expressed other concerns about mental health. Some only identified themselves with first names.
Talia, a junior at Magruder High School – where a 15-year-old student was shot last month, allegedly by a 17-year-old student – said students need more time to connect with their teachers.
Right now, too much emphasis is being placed on catching up on diminished learning from the pandemic, instead of social and emotional needs, Talia said.
“We have been locked up for almost two years. Students shouldn’t be locked in their rooms or stressed about homework all the time,” Talia said. “They should be able to have time to socialize and have a well-balanced life.”
Some students called for starting the school day later. Bradley, a senior at Walter Johnson High School, was one of them.
MCPS officials have completed a study of later start times in 2015. This study said delaying start times was a “complex issue.” He said there were benefits, including more sleep for students, but it also presented logistical challenges.
Bradley said it would be difficult to have later start times, but several health and medical institutions have recommended that school not start until 8:30 a.m.
“Sleep deprivation is linked to many of our major mental health concerns that we raise today,” he said. “It has been directly linked to many accidents, car accidents, assaults, suicides and depression. … The science has been there for years, and I think we need to focus more on it.
Some students said Wednesday that MCPS administrators have focused so much on academics that it creates an overly stressful environment and compounds existing mental health issues.
They also asked for more time for students to speak one-on-one with teachers, counselors and support staff.
Elani Bui, a first-year student at Richard Montgomery High School, said she and many students at the school currently have mental health time, which is emotional learning lessons. However, many students do not find this helpful, she added.
“Current lessons are unattractive and can intimidate people from talking about their experiences,” Bui said. “Instead of forcing students to watch YouTube videos, learning how to fight depression and anxiety, we should be given the time to actually manage our mental health.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org