Knowing that students who are in crisis aren’t always going to share their fears and worries with an adult, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD in Texas wanted a technology platform that would put administrators, counselors, and teachers in closer touch with students across its 37 campuses.
A Google district where most campuses are 1:1, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD also knew that its students were expressing themselves more freely in email, essays, and via other digital means. “By adopting a student safety platform, we gained another way to recognize and help students in crisis,” said Mario De La Rosa, director of Safety and Security.
Prior to using Gaggle, the district was hearing about those online interactions secondhand, but had no way of accessing the content. In an era where concerns about student situations, social issues, and mental health concerns compound upon themselves every year, De La Rosa said getting an alert about a student who is writing a suicide note to his parents on his Google account creates real opportunities for successful intervention. “That really happened,” he said.
The district has also intervened in cases of self-harm—yet another indicator that a suicide could potentially be in the planning stages. “Although many students don’t have current suicidal ideation with self-injury,” said the district’s Counseling Behavior Coordinator, Lyn Torres, “the research indicates that those who do self-injure by cutting, burning, or picking may have a greater likelihood of suicide ideation and/or an attempt in the future.”
The district has a crisis team that responds to Gaggle alerts. Working together, its counseling department and safety teams assess the urgency level and then respond accordingly. “We address it right at the moment that it happens,” said Torres. That means reaching out to parents, sending police out to perform welfare checks, or taking whatever steps necessary to mitigate the potential problem.
“After handling the situation, we give them immediate resources for evaluations,” said Torres, whose team works closely with the county’s mobile crisis units, which can be dispatched immediately to determine if the student needs help (or, if the district recommends an emergency room visit or psychological evaluation).
Every Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD campus does training in suicide awareness and the district has built mental health awareness into its curriculum. It also brings in organizations like Grant Halliburton to talk to students and staff about suicide prevention and awareness. “This is a major initiative for our district,” said Torres. “We know that if we’re not meeting our kids’ social and emotional needs, then they’re not going to be able to learn.”
By focusing on the root of the problem, De La Rosa said the district attempts to effectively minimize the occurrence of student suicides, self-harm, bullying, and cyberbullying. Using Gaggle, its Anonymous Alerts app, and other tools, the district can take proactive steps to ensure that students are okay or confirm that they need assistance.
“Like the saying goes, ‘If we only knew,’” De La Rosa said. “Well, now we know, and we are using the information to help keep our students safe.”