September 12, 2022

Three District Leaders Share Their Perspectives on Supporting Student Mental Health

GoGuardian Team
An illustration of two adults on the phone with one another discussing actions taken on an alert

Improving student mental health is a top priority for nearly all school communities in 2023, and GoGuardian Beacon has been a valuable tool for so many administrators, teachers, and students across the country in making this a reality. We’ve asked GoGuardian’s subject matter experts — educational professionals who recently served as school district leaders — to weigh in on how Beacon has reinforced mental health support systems and responses at their respective schools.

Here are three different perspectives on mental health in schools — coming from a former superintendent, chief technology officer, and director of counseling services — including how Beacon has helped them work toward building safer, more connected communities.

Beacon Helps Superintendents Sleep at Night

Mackey Pendergrast, former superintendent of schools for the Morris School District, New Jersey

Over the last decade, I’ve received my fair share of emergency phone calls — which are usually late at night or in the early hours of the morning. Over the last five years, many of these calls were related to a post on social media or concerning activity on the internet. Often, this information was real — and sometimes it was simply an unfounded rumor gone viral. Either way, each situation required a direct response from me in order to protect a student or the overall wellbeing of our community. Looking back, these nights were often the most frustrating, anxiety-ridden, and lonely experiences as a superintendent. 

In most crisis situations, our district had vetted policies and responses in place. However, with the advent of social media, cell phones, and the internet — and especially during the pandemic, when every student gained nearly unlimited access — it became clear our district had no system of response for these new types of crisis events that often manifested themselves on the internet. Most education leaders think in terms of “systems,” and it became apparent to me we simply didn’t have one. 

It was at this point we felt an enormous responsibility and urgency to provide student protections, internet guardrails, and a way to manage this new environment in some organized capacity. With the help of GoGuardian’s Beacon, we were able to create a clear, district-wide system of response that is so necessary in today’s world. Once we developed our system, it gave me great comfort knowing we had a plan to get the right information into the right school personnel’s hands at the right time. 

With GoGuardian, we also found professional support for helping us navigate this new era. For example, Beacon’s 24/7 feature gave our administrators and counseling team a true partner in critical suicide situations. Beacon assisted us in developing clear lines of communication that are so necessary during a crisis, when there’s often a “fog of information.” Clear communication and organizational lines of responsibility usually lead to direct action. 

Beacon was a critical tool in helping us create a district system of response and accountability we would have been unable to build without it. The support it offered our team helped us all sleep better knowing we had a system in place to protect our students, and a plan moving forward as we navigated an uncertain future. 

Beacon Helps Chief Technology Officers Respond, Track, and Improve 

Erica Hartman, former Chief Technology Officer of schools for the Morris School District, New Jersey

As the person whose main responsibility was to oversee the network and entire digital stack of a school district, student safety and wellness felt like an added pressure I was initially unprepared for. 

While my journey to becoming a CTO included being a teacher and instructional coach, I am not an expert on student health and safety. I appreciated Beacon because it allowed our schools to create a system of support and redundancy we simply didn’t have before. 

Beacon gave me peace of mind because I knew when an alert came through, our school’s response was not entirely on me. In fact, using Beacon enabled us to develop a collection of certified professionals I could access to help create a web of support for myself, the student in need, and their family.

Since Beacon helped us create a customized, well-documented, and memorialized (i.e., recorded actions saved in the dashboard to access later) system of response, it made my job a lot easier. The dashboard in particular is great — it allows schools and districts to detect trends and analyze data in regards to crisis response and interventions over time. Beacon was extremely helpful in dialing in our crisis response, and then assisting us as we improved it over time.

Beacon Helps Directors of Counseling Services Identify Those Who Struggle Silently

Tracy Clements, former director of counseling services for the Neosho School District,Missouri

As the director of counseling services, Beacon was great in that it provided another layer of support in our suicide prevention plan. When creating our district level plan, I thought I had covered all major aspects of identifying and responding to concerns of suicide. However, Beacon’s alerts made me realize our school had a huge “blind spot:” we weren’t identifying students who were struggling silently. 

Beacon was a huge help because it allowed my team to identify and respond to many students who would have otherwise gone unnoticed. In addition to alerting us to the most severe concerns of suicide, Beacon 24/7 allowed our team of counselors to identify many students who were in need of support before the situation reached a crisis level. 

By identifying concerns earlier, Beacon allowed us to get services in place and proactively prevent situations from escalating. While there is no single solution that will support every single person, Beacon was a huge help identifying problems we didn’t even know existed — and then got us working towards the best possible solution for educators, parents and caregivers, and students.

Creating Safer, More Connected Schools with Beacon

In an increasingly connected world, mental health has an impact on virtually every metric schools utilize to measure success. Mental health challenges can lead to increased absenteeism, difficulty learning and retaining information, problems with conflict management, and decreased staff and student morale.

All of these issues make mental health tools like Beacon an absolute necessity. While there is no single solution that will support every person, Beacon’s support provides a pathway towards safer schools and essential systems for supporting school leaders across the country.

Learn for yourself how Beacon can help create safer, more connected schools.