Giving Compass' Take:

• Olathe Public Schools located in Kansas began implementing SEL tools and offering mental health services after trying to understand how best to support students.

• How can SEL help reduce the stigma of mental health? Only 12 of the school districts have mental health counselors, how can donors and other investment help the other schools obtain counselors? 

• Learn about the role of social-emotional learning in improving school climate. 

Between 2015 and 2018, eight students and one teacher from Olathe Public Schools committed suicide. Through each heartbreaking loss, administrators and staff worked to find lifesaving mental health supports and strategies for the 30,0000 students in Kansas' second largest district.

“We knew, as a community, we had to start talking about mental health and mental well-being and the strategies to support them—and remove the stigma of asking for help and support,” says Dr. Jessica Dain, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services at Olathe.

Twelve of Olathe’s 56 schools now have mental health clinicians. The district screens students with the Signs of Suicide (SOS) program. They also draw on the Communities That Care survey data, collected over a decade, to measure students’ well-being.

With those tools in place, Olathe began measuring social-emotional learning (SEL) data and teaching SEL skills in every classroom in the fall of 2017. This work is made possible through a social-emotional learning survey from Panorama Education and curriculum from Second Step. Combining SEL data with attendance, behavior and academic data gives Olathe educators and staff a more complete picture of each student—where they’re succeeding, where they’re struggling, even how they’re feeling.

Dain says this data helped spark much-needed conversations that many were afraid to broach before the district began measuring and teaching SEL.

Dain recently shared with EdSurge how Olathe uses SEL, why this data gives educators a view of the whole student and how it strips the taboo label from mental health conversations.

Read the full article about how SEL can help answer hard questions about mental health by Wendy McMahon at EdSurge.