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Mental Health and School Culture

The above YouTube video interview took place at Upper Scioto Valley High School in Ohio after I visited for very productive day. The conversation took place primarily with the school’s social worker Danny Holbrook – and while some of the subjects discussed were school-specific, many of the subjects brought up can serve as a universal check-up on the mental health and  school culture at any high school in the United States.  

There are many takeaways from this video to serve any administration. 

The primary purpose of the interview was about my impressions of the school community, and I was happy to participate. I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much fun in a school setting. Of course, we also got to have some serious conversations, and the students were very inviting and open. I feel like I got to be myself.  

In my line of work as a youth motivational speaker, I have a very short time to connect with the kids. We plant seeds, and when they know you are real, you will connect. I am happy to report that this is exactly what happened at USV High School.  

CONNECT WITH YOUR KIDS 

Students, teachers and parents have to work together.   

Today, it sometimes seems like it’s the parent and child against the school, like, “Why did you provoke my child” or “the school wants to fail my child.” 

Really? Wait a minute… 

This is a far cry from the way it was when I was growing up.  What happened to make families think that they are the victims and that the school is against them? I’ve never met a teacher that wakes up and says, “I get to fail kids today...” 

Parents and teachers need to pull back some of the power, but at the same time we need to understand where our kids are coming from – and we need to connect with that before we expect them to understand where we are coming from. 

Remember when we were growing up and certain adults spent time with us – and when they left, there was a sadness? We will always remember important moments with these people. We should all strive to be that adult now for our young people – especially in our lines of work.  

When we come into the life of a child and are present, we want them to wish we never left. In my case, some of these kids might follow me on social media. We might never connect in person again, but long after the lights go out and the gym is vacant and closed, you hope that something remains and that a seed is planted.

As far as school culture is concerned, I’d like to see walls exploding with color and school spirit. There should be a committee in place in every school to make sure the vibe is inviting and memorable. 

And if we are going to connect with our kids, we’ve got to go where they are – and that’s social media. Every high school should have at least one social media option in place in order to build a community – a forum for input and ideas from faculty, staff, parents and students – an inclusive and positive channel for all.  

Libraries should be inviting, too – places where students are encouraged to linger, read and learn. 

Schools should have a media club in place so students can document the daily happenings on school grounds – and how about our counseling departments putting together a calendar, marking important dates and programs, i.e. Mental Health Month (May), Suicide Prevention Month (September) and relevant school events.  

It’s all about fostering a sense of school spirit.  

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The media club should be monitored, but some students should be appointed by administrators as page editors tasked with posting fun items. You know our kids are scrolling through Instagram at night. A relevant and engaging  post from the school would help to keep them engaged and eager to return. 

If you want to connect with your audience, you need three things – you need the written, the spoken and you need the visual. So the written could be the blog or the newsletter – the spoken could be the podcast – and the visual could be the videos. Imagine how connecting in those areas could impact school spirit. And it doesn’t have to be complicated – just consistent.  

And if you have morning announcements, make sure that they don’t sound like the teachers on the Peanuts cartoons. Speak clearly and with enthusiasm.  

Imagine the impact if a principal said this every morning at the close of announcements: “Ladies and gentlemen, remember: Make it a great day and I love you.” 

Before you say something like, “Well, Jeff, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” give it a try for a while.  

Imagine a time in the future when a former student is asked what they remember about high school, and they say, “I remember that our principal said he loved us every day.” 

Wow.  

We remember little things like that, and it makes a huge difference – but we need to take ownership of these things. It’s not hard. We all want to know what we can do to build morale and school spirit, but very few of us want to take responsibility. 

NURTURE YOUR STAFF 

Who is taking care of your staff?

What are we doing as a school to show our staff that we appreciate them? Are we having staff night? Are we having a Christmas Party – are we having a family picnic? What are we doing to value your staff and help them grow? 

I think our responsibility is not just taking care of the kids. We’ve got to take care of our faculty and staff. We all know that people are abandoning careers in education and creating a void. What can we do to start really validating the work that they do and how important it is? 

Many of your staff members are burned out, whether you realize it or not. It is imperative that we encourage self-care. You can’t pour from an empty pitcher – and when your people are burned out, they are not taking care of themselves.  

If you have teachers teaching six periods out of seven per day, that needs to stop. It’s not healthy and it’s not fair.  

Remember: Nothing changes if nothing changes. 

THE FAMILY UNIT 

I think the family unit needs to come back together. I wish we could spend more time at the kitchen table, getting to know each other again. The average family in America today spends less than 30 seconds in conversation during a 24-hour period. That’s three-and-a-half minutes a week.  

In the next ten years, you’ll see a 31 percent increase in teen suicide and drug and alcohol-related fatalities.  

Next time you go to the mall or go out to dinner or the grocery store, you are bound to see a small child misbehaving and bugging the parent. Ultimately, the parent hands over a smartphone or iPad. Why? Because it shuts the kid up.  This has become a convenience and a short-term fix. We all know how things will go when you try to take away the device later.  

We’re parenting today on the front-end. We’re not parenting on the back-end.  

Parents need to do a better job. We need to be more involved.  

We must stop sugarcoating things for our kids, but we need to connect with our kids on their level.  

Do you know what our kids see every day on the Internet? If they are not learning from influences like us that are healthy and fun and loving and caring – and our intentions are pure – they’re finding it elsewhere. Our children are not naïve.  

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

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Jeff Yalden is a speaker and Amazon bestselling author focusing on mental health, motivation and suicide prevention. Find out more about The Jeff Yalden Foundation, go HERE.   

Grab your copy of Jeff’s new book, Teen Suicide: The "Why" Behind America's Suicide Epidemic.  

To book Jeff to speak at your school or event, call Betty at 800-948-9289.