This technology helps school counselors better support student mental health

A few years ago, the Neosho School District in southwest Missouri realized it was in a crisis. Their suicide rates between 2014 and 2018 were well above the national average. In fact, in this small county of about 4,700 children, there was an average of two suicides a year. They knew they had to act.

At the time, Tracy Clements, a building-level counselor, was asked to take up her current position as director of counseling services for the district and tasked with creating a suicide prevention plan. She recently took some time to talk to us about the tools they have put in place to reduce suicide rates and promote mental health. But just moments into the conversation, Clements was interrupted by a warning from the district GoGuardian beacon system.

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

The notification also went to the building consultant, Clements explains. “She’s going to meet with the student today and say, ‘Hey, it looks like you’re having some problems’ and help them work through it. Maybe the student just needs one session with the counselor, or maybe we need to refer them to outpatient counseling.”

EdSurge: Well, it’s clear why you felt the need to implement a student alert system. How did you come up with GoGuardian Beacon as the right tool for your district?

Clemens: My first goal was to implement a good, solid suicide prevention plan. I had written one before assuming my current position, but I had neither the authority nor the resources to implement it. When they created my current position, it opened a lot of doors.

We were already using the GoGuardian platform for device management, filtering and instruction delivery. It manages the content our network accesses and blocks anything harmful or offensive. Teachers can also use the GoGuardian teacher platform to see what the kids are working on – make sure they stay on task.

When we found out about GoGuardian’s beacon software, we did a demo and I thought, “I need this.” It looks for worrisome suicide or self-harm-related activity on students’ school-managed accounts. We’ve also enabled a feature that will show students a message on their screen when Beacon generates a suicide or self-harm alert. As well as notifying our staff, it also displays a pop-up on the student’s screen confirming that they may be having suicidal thoughts and encouraging them to contact a suicide prevention hotline or speak to a trusted person until we can reach him.

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

How do these notifications help you and your students in this age of distance or hybrid learning?

We started Beacon in February 2019, just before the pandemic. It was perfect timing. When the world shut down and our students were all at home, we had Beacon to help our school counselors identify students who might be struggling. We were very, very lucky. I just can’t imagine what it would have been like that first year with all these kids kept away and no way for us to tell if they were okay.

I think we’ve helped a lot of kids with Beacon. Beacon generated alerts and we reached out to parents to get kids the help they needed. The active scheduling alerts have allowed us to help students who were in the midst of a crisis.

Can you explain what happens in such situations?

These come as a phone call from the Beacon security specialists to my team rather than a text and email. We have had multiple instances where we have received notifications of a student seeking ways to end their life. So we reached out to the parents immediately (in one instance, I went to the student’s home when I couldn’t reach the parents) and we were able to stop students who were preparing to end their lives.

Those tight calls are the really strong ones, but I think they’re even better in situations like the alert I just received. This student is asking for help. We are able to set up services before they reach the point of an active planning alert, suicide attempt or attempted suicide.

How would you describe Beacon’s overall impact on your district?

I really love this platform. It helps me to do my job much more effectively because I can’t be everywhere all the time. I’m sure we’ve saved the lives of several children and I also think we’ve improved the quality of life of many others because we’ve been able to set up services.

We know that many children don’t come out right away and say, “I need help.” They often look online for ways to harm themselves before reaching out to a parent or professional. With Beacon, we can help children who are struggling and offer support before things potentially get too bad.

We lost a student to suicide in May 2018. It is still painful for our community to feel their absence. I never want to experience that again, neither professionally nor privately. It’s terrible. So I’m doing absolutely everything to make sure our community doesn’t have to go through this.

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