Supporting social-emotional learning (SEL) is a way for schools to create healthy environments for students and provide them with lifelong skills for successfully navigating life’s challenges. For Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we’re sharing advice from Dr. Lori Vollandt in this 4-part series about how SEL is an important part of suicide prevention. Learn how the two in tandem can safeguard students from becoming vulnerable and at risk in the first place.
Dr. Vollandt is an education leadership expert with over 30 years experience in education and 15 years at the district level. She is currently the Coordinator of Health Education Programs for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the nation.
How to Fund SEL Programming
School districts typically fund social-emotional learning through general fund dollars that support Instruction and Professional Development, as well as through Title I funding. Some districts use Special Services or Special Education dollars to fund SEL programs. Funding can come from multiple sources — ranging from district, state, and federal budgets — and schools should also explore funding for specific populations such as LGBTQ, foster, immigrant, and homeless youth.
Resources for Funding of SEL and Suicide Prevention Programs
- Federal grants – The Grants.gov System-to-System (S2S) Listservs, hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are designed to support grantor agencies and applicants using a system-to-system interface to post funding opportunities and submit grant applications.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – The agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.
- National Institutes of Health – NIH's central resource for grants and funding.
- National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health – The NNED Funding Opportunities page is divided into governmental grant opportunities and foundation grant opportunities. The NNED also has a page with a list of national and local foundations focusing on behavioral health and disparities.
Intervention Starts with Insights
Technology, Data, and the Future of Suicide Prevention
Schools are where students are, and as the stewards of their safety, schools need to have plans in place to help prevent suicidal thoughts and behaviors and respond to the needs of suicidal youth. Our students are “digital natives” who have never known a time without digital devices. In school suicide prevention programs, we need to meet our students in the spaces where they seek information and communicate — and those spaces are created, more often than not, online. Thus, effective suicide prevention plans meet students where they are — on their devices — and account for how students may display warning signs of suicidal ideation and behavior in the digital classroom, just as they do in the traditional classroom.
Rapid advances in data science can provide us with helpful tools for suicide prevention and the ability to dynamically assess suicide risk in quantitative data-driven ways. Everything from AI-powered technology to online school surveys can be used to help identify students and point them toward the resources they need. Early identification of potential problems means early intervention — and identification starts with actionable insights and data.
Currently, those actionable insights are being garnered through emerging new technologies that offer innovative approaches to the field of suicide prevention. For example, GoGuardian Beacon® is one example of a suicide and self-harm prevention tool designed to help school counselors, administrators, and educators proactively identify at-risk students so that they can quickly get them the assistance they need.
In our digital era, at-risk students often show signs of suicide ideation through their browsing activity and online behaviors. If such behaviors occur regularly on school devices, such early warning signs could be a cry for help. GoGuardian Beacon is built to identify when a student accesses content or exhibits online behaviors related to self-harm or suicide on a school-issued device. Schools can then use the insights and data Beacon provides to complement their existing suicide prevention protocols, empowering the right people in their district with the information to get students help as fast as possible. School staff and administrators can choose how they involve the school community site-by-site, including notifying parents directly.
Whether you are an educator, administrator, mental health clinician, or community leader, emerging technologies can be paired with suicide prevention strategies to create more secure and safeguarded systems that ensure students don't fall under the radar.
Tools and Standards Utilized by LAUSD
In my years at LAUSD, I've also found the following tools and surveys to be beneficial in aiding the district's SEL, mental health, and suicide prevention programs:
The School Experience Survey measures self-reported data around core SEL competencies and school connectedness, which is also a significant factor in upstreaming.
The California Healthy Kids Survey is an anonymous, confidential survey on school safety, student wellness, and youth resiliency. It enables schools and communities to collect and analyze data regarding youth health risks and behaviors, school connectedness, school climate, protective factors, school violence, and suicidal behavior.
The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) monitors six categories of health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among young adults.
Ultimately, upstreaming techniques like SEL are vital to effective suicide prevention in schools. Responding when disaster strikes “downstream,” as the old parable teaches us, is not enough. We need to equip students with the essential tools and resources to protect their physical and emotional well-being in the first place. Here, social-emotional learning policies and programs play a critical role.
When paired with technology, other “upstreaming” approaches, and suicide prevention programs, SEL initiatives can make a measurable impact. It is my greatest hope as a longtime educator and advocate that the skills gained through SEL programs continue to benefit our students beyond the K-12 grades, helping them to overcome challenges even farther "downstream” in their future academic, career, and family lives.
About Dr. Lori Vollandt
Dr. Vollandt has been a lifelong educator, policy-informer, and community leader. She holds a B.A. in Health Education from San Jose State, a Master's in Education from the Governor's Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA, and a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) at UCLA with a focus on social justice through Educational Leadership and Administration. Dr. Vollandt began her career at Marshall High School, where she taught for 13 years and wrote grants in excess of six million dollars to build a mental health clinic to serve the students and families of Marshall. She also served as the State Chair for “Do the Write Thing,” a violence prevention program.
Dr. Vollandt has been served as the longtime Coordinator of Health Education Programs for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where she administered programs to ensure the best health outcomes for students, including violence prevention, nutrition, mental health, HIV/AIDS prevention, and comprehensive sexual education. Dr. Vollandt is often called to inform government decision-makers and has performed State and Congressional briefings. She has also served many years on the boards of Peace Over Violence, the Los Angeles Trust for Children's Health, and The Liberty Crew: an organization dedicated to eradicating the opioid epidemic through school and community partnerships.
Upon retirement from LAUSD* in 2018, Dr. Vollandt co-founded Achieve Beyond the Binder, an educational consulting company that is focused on the implementation of Social-Emotional Learning programs and improving school culture and climate. Most recently, she was the architect of a Social-Emotional Learning program implemented in over 900 Los Angeles schools.
*Please note: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, Dr. Lori Vollandt, and do not reflect the opinions or positions of Los Angeles Unified School District.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feeling hopeless, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.