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The number of students referred to school social workers at Evanston Township High School continues to increase “exponentially,” and their needs are becoming “more complicated,” according to a report on Student Well-Being.

In the report given at the Dec. 17 meeting of the District 202 Board of Education, Taya Kinzie, Associate Principal for Student Services, and Principal Marcus Campbell outlined trends in students’ well-being and how the school is supporting goals around social-emotional development.

Ms. Kinzie reported official social-work referrals have increased 78% in five years to 419 in 2017-18.  Put another way, one in nine students was referred for official social work services last year, she said, which does not account for self-referrals or walk-ins.

The increase in social-work referrals, “is reflective of nationwide trends both from the number of needs as well as the complexity of the needs,” said Ms. Kinzie. 

Examples of ‘Complexity’

In terms of “complexity,” Ms. Kinzie pointed to three examples: cases of psychiatric hospitalization, homelessness and threats of suicide.

Psychiatric Hospitalization: One positive trend shows that psychiatric hospitalizations through the school’s pre- and post-hospitalization program (PHP) have decreased over two years, from 99 to 79, according to the report.  But, while the school is “really happy about that decrease,” trends also show, said Ms. Kinzie, that, “the number of students who have been hospitalized more than once and are participating in the PHP program has increased by 24%, up from 14% the year before.”

Homelessness: Housing issues are becoming increasingly taxing on students and staff.  The report showed that 191 students are considered homeless.  Under the No Child Left Behind Act, students are defined as homeless if they lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.  These students require “a lot of support through our community resources, through our McKinney-Vento committees, through a variety of service providers here in the school as well as the teachers bending over backwards for students,” Ms. Kinzie said.

Danger to Self or Others: The need for suicide prevention is also contributing to the complexity of support.  The number of student cases involving clear and present danger/potential harm to self or others within the school has increased 27%  in two years.

Referrals Further Broken Down: Social work referrals were further broken down in the report.  There were 28 referrals for substance use. First quarter data 2018-2019 for social work access was disaggregated by race: 19% Latino (student enrollment is 18.5%), 30% Black (student enrollment is 27.3%), 6% Asian (student enrollment is 5.6%), 3% identifying as two or more races (student enrollment is 2.3%), and 58% students of color (student enrollment is 54.3%) and 42% White (student enrollment is 45.6%).

Medical Supports: Medical needs are also increasing.  There were almost 13,000 visits to Health Services Office (Nurse’s Office).  Five hundred-fifty students with plans related to medical needs were serviced.  Students seen with concussions rose 65%, to 109 students.

“There’s a reason our strong concussion protocol is in place and serving students,” said Ms. Kinzie.

The report also provided information on other outcomes and measures associated with the school’s well-being goals.  Attendance, connectedness to school though extracurricular activities, behavior referrals and academic growth (GPA) measures were reviewed as they related to student well-being.   Details on these outcomes were also discussed in the ETHS Student Achievement Report presented to the District 202 Board in November and covered in a Nov. 28 RoundTable article.  All reports can be found on the ETHS website.

What Is ETHS’s Role

“Well-being” was named the staff focus for this year by Dr.  Campbell, signifying an increased look at issues effecting students’ social-emotional growth.

“We have a lot of students in pain,” said Dr. Campbell.  “When some of these kids begin to externalize, of course there’s a referral written, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the kid is in trouble. What it means is something has occurred and either the Dean, counselors, social workers, psychologists, case manager – whoever that might be – we’re going to get involved in a different kind of way. We are also trying to take some preventive measures for all of our kids who are just having a really tough time and are asking for help in so many different ways.  That’s the frame we talked about with our staff.  Our response is more support than consequence.” 

“Each staff member has a role in helping students grow social-emotionally and academically, as well as connecting students to supports,” the report said.  Intentional outreach and relationship building are being included with new and sustained prevention and early intervention efforts.

Ms. Kinzie highlighted three new programs in her presentation.  A Signs of Suicide curriculum and screening will be initiated this spring for ninth-graders.  A new student well-being survey will be given to all students in the spring as well and will focus on mental health, substance use, sleep, and nutrition. A new “shift” that the staff is making is to “Acknowledge, Care, Tell” (ACT) messaging instead of “See Something, Say Something.”  This approach is said to focus more on prevention and empowering students to report any concern related to suicide prevention, safety, harassment, bullying or sexual harassment, etc. 

Also highlighted were efforts “to shift the culture of consent.”  Increased school-wide opportunities were created for Sexual Assault Awareness Week this past April, included activities, workshops, performances, support from deans to address incidents, mental health services and professional development for coaches, departments and staff.  A five-minute video was created by students, in collaboration with teachers, to define consent and give resources for reporting sexual harassment and assault.  It was shown during a pep rally and in physical education classes.

Other efforts were listed in the report. Family evening programming will be expanded with events throughout the year on issues such as Executive Functioning, Mental Health, College Planning, Navigating Course Request Process for all families, Bullying and Harassment, Career Options Night, Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment, Substance Use and LGBTQ+ youth support.  Post-high school planning efforts will continue, and PE and Wellness classes will continue to include wellness topics in their curriculums. 

Board Reaction

Several board members asked how the increased complexity of student needs is affecting teachers and staff.

Jonathan Baum, referencing the almost threefold increase in social work referrals said, “We don’t have three times as many social workers.  You need to come to us and say, ‘We need more resources.’”

“I’m here, and I’m asking,” said Ms. Kinzie.  

Pat Maunsell asked about the wellness focus of staff, asking about the “level of understanding” among different people students encounter each day.   

“We continue to look at how to support staff,” said Ms. Kinzie. “Students share a lot of their lives with them.  Professional development centers around different topics.  I know our society is getting more complex.  We must continue to be at the forefront.”