Digital Exclusive: Sioux City Community School District enhancing measures for mental health

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU)– COVID-19 impacted student’s mental health in various ways, and Sioux City Community School District continues to help students with their mental health as children come back to the classroom. 

Director of Student Services and Education and Title IX Coordinator Dora Jung said the schools within the district uses a three-tier system to give students a personalized care system to keep them mentally healthy and engaged.  

The system helps to keep track of how a student’s mental health may be impacting their emotional learning and their education learning.  

The system is upheld by teams of staff members including counselors, AEA specialists, teachers, and administrators. The team communicates among themselves to implement the proper measures to students while they are in the classroom.  

The first tier applies to all students and helps them learn about their social and emotional development, where they take time out of the day to teach students social and emotional awareness. This time is also used to teach students how to recognize behaviors in their peers and how to address what their peer needs.  

Jung said this system has been modified over the years to increase positive behaviors and works to provide students individualized care.  

“As you may know and understand, when we have young children, let’s say kindergarten students, first-grade students, second-grade students, these students are learning what socializing looks like and how to manage their emotions,” said Jung, “So, we have that piece of the day where we stop and say we need to talk about how to manage our anger, how to make friends, we reserve that time.”  

Jung said as students move on from elementary school to middle and high school the system changes how the schools address social and emotional awareness, keeping their learning relevant to their development.  

Throughout the year, the schools give ‘mental health screeners,’ where the students are assessed to determine where they might need additional help.  

If a student or group of students are not progressing at the rate that is recommended, the school implements a behavior coach to bring in another level of assistance for those students. 

Teachers continuously enter data on each child and that data is reviewed every other week or more if needed.  

“We have the system set up in such a way that the numbers, the data will tell us; this is the time for intervention, more than the tier-one level, so that’s when tier-two comes in.” 

Aside from data, family, teacher, and peer referrals can determine whether a student should be moved up or down from each tier.  

The tier-two intervention comes with various levels of learning and care that can be modified to fit the individual child’s needs, so they can progress in their social and emotional learning. 

Once a child goes through all the steps of intervention, modification, and monitoring, the experts at the school move the child to the third tier, where the child is given more intense services to assist them.  

At this point, the team monitoring the child’s progress may consider a referral for therapy, which is communicated and approved by the student’s family.  

The school district recognizes that families may not want to use additional services such as therapy because of their cultural views, which is why the school district continuously attempts to stay connected with the students’ families to provide services to accommodate their needs. 

“We want to make that connection; we have to work as a family,” Jung said, “The school and the family-family, we are a family working in benefit of the child. So, I encourage those families to reach out to us even those families that culturally feel uncomfortable reaching out to additional services, I encourage them to reach out to the school because it’s not only about a referral to the therapist. It is our support, our system who steps in strongly first, then if we need the additional [services] that would be an option if they don’t want [the additional services] we’ll continue and will make sure that the student is successful within our system if that is what they want.” 

The district works with three agencies and 11 specialists who come to the building and see the student within the school to make it as simple as possible for the families who utilize the additional services. 

Jung said that if a family feels they can’t afford it, the school will work with them as a team to ensure the student is getting the services they need and cost should not be of concern.  

“I do encourage the families to reach out to us, to the schools,” said Jung, “If they see a behavior that is not common that they are starting to notice something please reach out to us, please talk to the school, if the school is reaching out to you, please respond. We are trying to help you; we are reporting something is happening because we want to help you, and we need the family help.” 

Jung said that families should look for behaviors that are out of the ordinary for their child and if they raise concern, contact the school. 

The Sioux City Community School District will continue to use the system they have in place because it has proven to be successful over the years and a small percentage make it to the third level of intervention, according to Jung. 

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