A New Way to Track Student Emotional Health
By Patrick Cook-Deegan
This past November, the CDC published a study on youth visits to the emergency room during COVID-19. The findings weren’t good.
Compared to 2019, the number of mental health–related visits for children aged 12–17 years in the US increased approximately 31%.
While the full impact of COVID-19 on adolescent mental health is not yet known, research from China found that the percent of youth experiencing depression increased by 10% during the pandemic and a recent multi-country review found that loneliness and social isolation in childhood and adolescence increases the risk of depression up to nine years later.
And that’s on top of an already dismal youth mental health situation in the United States. The 2019 CDC Behavior Risk Survey conducted before the pandemic found that 1 out of 5 high school students seriously considered attempting suicide and more than a third experienced consistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
But pandemic or not, educators have long been at a loss about how to track and support their students’ psychological and emotional wellbeing. There are no good tools to proactively address student mental health, much less resources to help educators handle the collective and individual trauma students have suffered since COVID struck. Furthermore, district and school officials don’t have a good way of tracking students’ mental health on a daily, weekly, or annual basis.
PROJECT WAYFINDER and MENTAL HEALTH
Mental Health assessment tools can be fuzzy and the impact of programs hard to measure. Findings seem “soft” because they can’t be quantified well, in part because so few attempts are made to do it. It’s easy to measure literacy reading gains or advancement in math. It’s harder to measure social emotional growth and the formation of character. But mental health tracking is possible.
At Project Wayfinder, we believe cultivating belonging, meaning, and purpose are antidotes to the mental health crisis, a way to build the strength to endure the inevitable ups and downs of adolescence. Research shows that a sense of belonging in adolescence has a significant impact on general life satisfaction, coping ability, stress management, and physical health. Giving young people these capacities should be our aim — in our schools, in our social emotional learning programs, and in character development and leadership programs.
But helping young people develop these capacities is only half the battle. The other is getting a clear picture of their mental health. Measuring this is doubly important in a remote learning environment, when small informal check-ins that happen in the flow of the school day aren’t available.
That’s why we’ve built a mental health dashboard, called Waypoints by Wayfinder™, into our curriculum, which gives teachers and principles, accurate up-to-the-minute insights into the mental health of their students.
Here is how it works:
At the end of each of our curricular lessons, students fill out a quick “exit ticket” that looks like this:
Students fill out this assessment confidentially. From there, teachers know instantly which lessons are landing and what elements they can improve. All of this student data can be put together to get a snapshot of overall mental health for any students taking Wayfinder curriculum at school. Importantly, this data can be traced back to a student, allowing an administrator to follow up. (To protect privacy, Project Wayfinder can’t see individual student data. The only thing we see is high-level aggregated data that helps us improve our curriculum.)
These lightweight mental health exit tickets are a gamechaing tool for district officials and administrators trying to better understand their students’ mental health, particularly during the remote learning of COVID, when students are dealing with high levels of psychological suffering. This tool comes as part of our regular curriculum package.
Our goal at Project Wayfinder is to help improve our students’ emotional health by providing them the best adolescent SEL program in the world. Our Waypoints mental health dashboard is part of that push. And it does the double duty — allowing us to improve our curriculum while helping teachers and administrators better understand what’s been elusive and so hard to track: their students’ well being.
What’s measured matters. Or say the saying goes. We hope this is one more way we can better help our students thrive by measuring what matters.