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February 1, 2024
Vol. 81
No. 5
Newsworthy

A Temperature Check on Student Needs

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    Policy
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    Credit: Dmitry Kovalchuk / SHUTTERSTOCK
      For leaders of Topeka Public Schools in Kansas, mental health care is a top priority—and the district's comprehensive, trauma-informed approach is nationally recognized. The first step of support begins before students walk in the door. During registration, caregivers of every new student fill out a mental health screening form with three questions:
      1. Has your child experienced depression recently?
      2. Does your child have diagnosed mental health concerns?
      3. Has a loved one close to your child died in the last two years?
      The questions, created by superintendent Tiffany Anderson and principal Joy Grimes—who lead the district’s Mental Health Committee as chair and co-chair, respectively—are inspired by Nadine Burke Harris's research on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The answers go to each school’s mental health team (made up of counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and mental health liaisons), who follow up with families to offer tailored resources. Anderson stresses that "screening for mental health as we do for eye and ear exams" is possible, even for a district with 13,000 students. "It's empowering," says Anderson. "It doesn't cost anything, and it's been a gamechanger for us." Thanks in part to the district's comprehensive efforts, all schools have raised graduation rates above 90 percent, and there have been no suicides in six years (after multiple annually before 2016). To access more resources related to the screening, go to topekapublicschools.net/departments/mental_health.

      Kate Stoltzfus is a freelance editor and writer for ASCD.

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