This Technology Helps School Counselors Better Support Student Mental Health

A few years ago, the Neosho school district in southwest Missouri realized they were in crisis. Their suicide rates between 2014 and 2018 were well above the national average. In fact, this small area of ​​about 4,700 children used to experience two suicides every year. They knew they had to take action.

At the time, Tracy Clements, a building-wide counselor, was asked to move into her current position as director of district counseling services and tasked with developing a suicide prevention plan. You recently took the time to talk to us about the tools they’ve put in place to help lower suicide rates and promote mental health. But just moments after the conversation, Clements was interrupted by an alert from the area’s GoGuardian Beacon system.

“The system analyzes online activity in real time, and alerts us when risky behavior is detected. This message may suggest self-harm,” Clements says.

Clements explains that the notification was also sent to the building consultant. “You’re going to meet the student today and say, ‘Hey, looks like you’re having some problems,’ and help them address that. Maybe the student just needs a session with the counselor, or maybe we need a referral for them for outpatient advice.”

EdSurge: Well, you obviously see why you feel the need to implement a student alert system. How did you come up with the GoGuardian Beacon as the right tool for your area?

Clements: My first goal was to implement a good, robust suicide prevention plan. I had written one before starting my current position, but didn’t have the authority or resources to implement it. When they created my current site, they opened a lot of doors.

We were already using the GoGuardian platform for device management, filtering, and providing instructions. It manages the content our network accesses and blocks anything malicious or explicit. Teachers can also use the GoGuardian Teacher platform to see what kids are working on – making sure they stay on task.

When we learned about GoGuardian’s Beacon, we did a demo, and I thought, “I need that.” Looks up activities related to suicide or self-harm in student accounts operated by the school. We’ve also enabled a feature that provides students with a message on their screen when a beacon issues a suicide or self-harm alert. Not only does it notify our employees, but it also pops up a student’s screen acknowledging that they may have suicidal thoughts and encourages them to contact the suicide prevention hotline or speak with a trusted person so we can reach them.

If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feeling hopeless, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

How do these alerts help you and your students during times of distance learning or blended learning?

We started with Beacon in February 2019, right before the pandemic. It was perfect timing. When the world ended, and our students were all at home, we had a beacon to help our school counselors identify students who might struggle. We were very, very lucky. I can’t imagine what it would be like for that first year when all these kids are away and there’s no way for us to say if they’re okay.

I think we helped several kids with a lighthouse. Beacon created alerts, and we’ve contacted parents to provide kids with the help they need. Active planning alerts allowed us to help students who were in the midst of a crisis.

Can you explain what happens in those situations?

This comes as a phone call to my team of Beacon safety specialists, rather than a text and email. We’ve been through multiple instances where we’ve received alerts about a student looking for ways to end his life. So, we got in touch with the parents right away (in one case, I went to the student’s home when I couldn’t reach the parents), and were able to stop the students who were preparing to end their lives.

These close calls are really the strongest, but I think they do better in situations like the alert you just received. This student is asking for help. We can get services in place before they get to the point of active planning alert, attempting suicide or at risk of attempting suicide.

How would you describe the overall impact of the Beacon Program on your area?

I really like this platform. It helps me do my job more effectively because I can’t be everywhere all the time. I am sure we have saved many children’s lives, and I also believe we have improved the quality of life for many others because we have been able to provide services in place.

We know a lot of kids won’t come out and say, “I need help.” Oftentimes, they may search online for ways to harm themselves before reaching a parent or professional. With a beacon in place, we can help children who may be struggling and provide support before things get too bad.

We lost a student to suicide in May 2018. It still hurts our community to feel his absence. I would never want to experience that again, either on a professional or personal level. It is horrible. So, I do everything I can to try to make sure that our community doesn’t have to go through that.

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