Board Of Education Hears Report On Student, Staff Mental Health

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Burbank Unified School District office. (Photo By Ross Benson)

The Burbank Board of Education heard a report on student and staff Mental Health and Wellness, conducted from September 17 to November 6, 2020, according to Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services John Paramo, during the regular meeting on Thursday, May 20.

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Respondents were much lower in number than the previous three years the survey has been conducted, he told the Board. Ultimately, 900 high school students and 423 staff members participated in the survey, administered and analyzed by Hanover Research. Sixty-one percent of high school student responses came from those in grades nine and ten.

“A growing percentage of both students and staff, from 40% in 2017 to 56% in 2020, report feeling stressed or anxious,” said Paramo. “Students also view counseling and support for stress and anxiety as the area they would benefit from most.”

However, across all four years of the survey, a consistently small percentage, averaging 13%, report being likely to seek out school provided mental health or social-emotional support.

“2020 marked a significant increase in the percentage of students reporting that homework is a moderate or large source of stress or anxiety,” Paramo also said.

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“Nearly all students, 93%, report some mental health or social-emotional challenges stemming from distance learning, with boredom (67%) and social isolation (65%) the most common challenges.”

Top sources of stress for students, according to the survey, were homework and preparation for college and career.

The demand for bullying and substance abuse services has decreased over time. The demand for anxiety and stress-related services has increased over time, and are viewed as the most beneficial by students. Students were most likely to say they would use the schools’ wellness centers or individual counseling services.

“Lack of will, communication and knowledge are the most common barriers reported by students” in seeking support.

“We know that there’s going to be an uptick, more than definitely, for both staff and students needing mental health services moving forward,” commented Board member Emily Weisberg, who asked Paramo, “Do you have any thoughts about how we can bridge that, you know, 13% of the students who were accessing the resources versus the much larger percentage of students who have said that they need them?”

“We’ve been working closely with FSA [Family Services Agency]… to really look at what the mental health services we provide could look like in the upcoming year, given the fact that our kids have been in isolation for over a year,” Paramo answered. “So, part of the plan is to increase the number of therapists to help with the demand we are expecting to see when the kids return.”

“But there’s also a lot of concerted effort on trying to secure a campaign that really is personalized to kids, to make them aware of the services we provide,” he continued. “I feel like we’ve done a lot using our traditional mechanisms to put the word out about what the school can provide through FSA, but it’s not necessarily the way kids receive information… we’re trying to keep up with the formats that kids use in order to get information.”

“We’re trying to work with kids directly to figure out how to best do that,” Paramo said, noting he had just met with Burbank and John Burroughs High Schools’ Associated Student Body organizations to specifically talk about how to get the messaging on mental health support and services out to more students.

“They had so many wonderful ideas that I had not even thought of,” he added, mentioning that more work is planned on looking at a variety of approaches.

“It will be interesting to see how and what changes as a result of being physically back at school,” Board Vice President Charlene Tabet commented about the annual survey which is typically conducted in September and October. “We may be missing a lot, or a lot’s not happening because they’re at home… this is someone’s mental health so we want to be cautious and thoughtful and take a look at what’s going on.”

Tabet mentioned she knew of “several kids that had a lot of problems this school year, who normally were just fine. Now, will they continue to have those problems, is it something that they can get past?”

Board members discussed the rise of texting and Zoom counseling services during the pandemic.

“This is where we want the treatment waiver in the enrollment packets and why,” Board Clerk Steve Ferguson commented. “Because if a student chooses to text or if that’s going to be the method by which they [seek counseling support] and they don’t have a treatment waiver on file, that’s a barrier to care.”

All Board members agreed that bridging the gap between the high need for services students report and the low number of students who actually seek support is a major challenge.

Paramo also said that there would be expanded services for teachers and staff returning to school in the fall, with support from FSA. Superintendent Matt Hill underlined his remarks, saying that efforts are underway to provide more school site specific resources for teachers and staff.

The student and staff Mental Health and Wellness report is viewable in the accompanying agenda packet for the May 20 meeting.

The video and complete agenda of the Burbank Board of Education meeting for May 20 can be found online here.

The Burbank Board of Education is comprised of President Steve Frintner, Vice President Charlene Tabet, Clerk Steve Ferguson and members Dr. Armond Aghakhanian and Dr. Emily Weisberg. More information on the Board can be found online on their webpage.