ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) superintendent said he wants students across the school system to have their physical, social and psychological well-being consistently addressed.
Students are concerned that the services available are not enough, Jonathan Brice, associate superintendent of the Office of Student and Family Support and Engagement of MCPS, said. He presented a new framework to school board officials on May 14. Based on student data and responses in the 2017-2018 school year, some students and families said they had a hard time finding contact information for psychological services.
During the past year, MCPS has been documenting the services that each school offers for psychological and mental health. In those reports, the school system is also monitoring the “social-emotional” needs of students and the related services used.
“During a three-year period, the Montgomery County Crisis Center reported a 74-percent increase in student referrals,” MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith wrote in a memorandum to the school board for the May 14 meeting.
Smith wrote that “similar concerns and trends” were reported nationally, citing an April 2019 report titled “Suicidal Attempts and Ideation among Children and Adolescents in U.S. Emergency Departments, 2007-2015. “It was estimated that” reports of 5-to-18-year-olds “evaluated” for attempting or having “ideation” about taking their own lives in 2007 to 2015 increased, while visits to emergency rooms for that age range during that time did not show a significant increase, the report said.
Brice and several MCPS central office staff members gave the Montgomery County Board of Education a presentation on a new framework in development, called Be Well 365.
Brice gave a “preview” of the website-in-progress, which MCPS plans to launch in June. The website will include a list, by school name, of the names and contact information of individuals that families can contact if they have concerns about their children’s mental health.
“We thought it was critically important that our community can connect with staff other than just the classroom teacher if they have a question or believe that their child needs additional support,” said Brice.
Central office staff stated that scientific research demonstrate a connection between mental wellness and students’ academic performance. Smith wrote in his memorandum to the board that he wants students and families to be more consistently aware of support services and how to access them.
Several Maryland state laws either call for the increased services or describe the necessity of addressing students’ mental and emotional needs to help their well-being, Smith said.
MCPS staff, teachers and stakeholders in a workgroup continue to develop lesson ideas that teachers can incorporate into their curriculum without scheduling time for a separate lesson on mental health. MCPS plans to have a salaried training day for teachers during the summer about Be Well 365, in which teachers will learn how to implement a list of practices called “the 6 Essentials” in their classrooms. Brice said more than 600 teachers had signed up for training day before the May 14 presentation.
Twinbrook Elementary School physical education teacher Alexander Mueck told the school board how he and others involved in the development of Be Well 365 put together ideas to incorporate the framework into school lessons.
“It was a really fun and creative experience trying to look at the curriculums and all these different subjects,” said Mueck, adding, “It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.”
MCPS staff repeated throughout the presentation that Be Well 365 is manageable and will not be “one more” responsibility on teachers’ plates.
Mueck said Be Well 365 includes content teachers have learned in the past.
“I know that teachers know this curriculum really well already… we’re just being more explicit (about it),” Mueck said.
Smith said under Be Well 365’s first year of implementation, “school instructional leadership teams” will need to create a plan related to the program and add it to the School Improvement Plan.
School principals create and carry out School Improvement Plans every year in their respective schools, a practice that existed before the preview of Be Well 365. MCPS also plans to offer student surveys about the new curriculum, which teachers will insert into lessons of existing academic courses and curricula. MCPS will also collect surveys from teachers on Be Well 365 to receive feedback about the new framework.
As another part of addressing student well-being, MCPS staff announced that forms to report bullying incidents will soon be available to submit online for the first time. The current way of reporting is filling out and printing a form, then hand-delivering it to the students’ school front office.