Town Crier

WILMINGTON — Di­rector of Student Sup­port Services Alice Brown-Le Grand, Co­or­din­ator of Behavioral Health and Social Emo­tional Support Christine Murray, and Coordina­tor of Special Education Services Soula Bousios reported on student well-being concerns to the School Committee during their meeting last Wed­nesday night.

Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand started by explaining the intent of the district to be transparent with the struggles that staff, school administration, and families have been enduring.

Brown-Le Grand stated one thing that has been clear from the last few years, which was that the pandemic had ongoing effects on everyone in terms of resources, stress, and consistency. She said she knew that there were concerns during their recent presentation of the Panorama data to the committee. She also said that the American Academy of Pediatrics had declared student mental health a national emergency in October.

Some data that they ref­erenced came from Wilmington Substance Abuse Program Coordin­ator Samantha Reif. This said that behavioral health calls for students in crisis increased. In September, the police department received 10 calls for suicidal/idea­tion plans or ideas. Reif also recorded an in­crease in substance ab­use and the effects of trauma.

More issues they’re no­ticing on a higher than usual were grandparents raising grandchildren and children having to care for parents or other children.

Murray specifically men­tioned police and fire response to activity in the school district rising dramatically. She said these calls were mostly due to behavioral issues, mental health crises, and violence. She counted over 30 emergency psychiatric crises at school in 56 days in school.

She also saw an in­crease in involving the Department of Children and Families, with issues involving homelessness and group homes. She suggested that in­creased conduct difficulties like bullying and dan­gerous behavior were the result of students not being able to cope or regulate their emotions.

She also brought up the Youth Risk Behavior Sur­vey results, which showed over one-third of students at the high school and one-quarter of students at the middle school answering that their mental health is not good most of the time or always. The Signs of Suicide results going back to 2019 show­ed 14.8 percent of 7th graders at that time be­ing in the red zone, and this year 23.8 percent of 8th graders in the red zone.

School Committee mem­ber Melissa Plowman asked about how the Signs of Suicide program was administered to students. Murray explained that it was given in health class by a school psychologist and the health teachers, who both have experience. There’s also a video shown, she said, with suggestions for students if they’re concerned about a struggling family member or friend.

Bousios discussed an increase in counseling supports needed and a shortage of school psychologists. She said that the department is trying to be thoughtful and diligent about hiring while understanding the needs.

“We have to prioritize what we’re addressing first,” she continued.

She stressed the importance of utilizing counseling-related resources and being creative with focus to meet the needs at each school. She also mentioned a lack of substitutes and creativity needed to make sure classes are covered and services are provided.

Bousios went on to say that they’re doing their best to respond to all of the parent requests for support and referrals reaching out about so­cial-emotional behavior, but sometimes they strug­gle to figure out what supports are necessary. She said they project to complete more than 500 evaluations this year, and last year they completed 391. Brown-Le Grand clarified this was the highest amount of evaluations on record.

Some of the responses they made to the in­crease of mental health behavioral needs have been contracting with BCBAs, adding counselors, using Panorama data to focus lessons in classrooms, utilizing the Social-Emotional Learn­ing and Family Engage­ment Specialists, offering related professional development, and partnering with the Wilming­ton Substance Abuse Co­a­lition.

Another point made by Brown-Le Grand was that staff and school administration are living through the same things that students and families are.

M. J. Byrnes suggested trying to partner with Lahey or another local hospital to provide clinical support for students. Murray said that they’re always looking to in­crease mental health of­ferings and educate staff.

Plowman asked about how staff needs and mor­ale is being monitored.

“My experience is that teachers need logistical support… that they are feeling tapped out on self-care, yoga, or mindfulness,” she said.

She also wanted to see the district track students through the years on their mental health and look into school-based counseling and fa­mily engagement for workshops. Chair Dr. Jenn Bryson mentioned on engagement that she would like to see events be tailored both to parents and students and consistently promoted by staff.

David Ragsdale commented that he had perhaps been overly optimistic with full in-person learning making up for what was lost in COVID in terms of connection.

“We need to do everything we can, but we should do so with an attitude of grace and pa­tience.”

He recognized that staff have also been through the same stress and trauma that students and families have.

Jay Samaha asked about the district’s ef­forts for emotional be­havior dysregulation. Brown Le-Grand respon­ded to say that there were students in crisis this year who were re­mote last year or not even on the district’s ra­dar.

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