There’s no argument the pandemic has sucked for kids. Even in normal times, being a kid is hard.
Local school districts use multiple tools to keep up with the well-being of their students. Greenwood County school districts 50, 51 and 52 are using a tool that filters students’ communication on school software, whether they’re on or off campus, during the weekends or on holidays.
Gaggle is software the districts use that filters students’ email and other accounts for certain words or phrases dealing with things such as self-harm, harassment, depression or violence.
Across all the districts it serves, Gaggle saw an increase in all content categories during the 2020-21 school year. There was a 67% increase in instances of suicide and self-harm, a 143% increase in nudity and sexual content and a 67% increase in violence toward others, according to a Gaggle report. Gaggle says 1 in 6 teens has seriously considered suicide.
District 50 has used the service since December 2019.
A statement from District 50 Safety Officer Natalie Talbert says there have been situations where the district had to perform wellness checks on students based on information from Gaggle and that there have been situations where it has helped prevent potential tragedies.
“This has made this tool incredibly valuable to us,” the statement says.
District 51 in Ware Shoals began using the service on July 1, weeks before the first day of school. That helped one student who sent an email using their school account that mentioned harassment before the school year began. Gaggle picked up on the mention and alerted the school.
“On campus, off campus, Christmas break, if they’re using those tools off campus, they’re still being protected 24 hours a day, so that’s a big help for the students,” said Danny Frady, director of technology for District 51.
“The teacher only sees the student for a window of time, the tools we implemented with Gaggle and our web filter protect them 24 hours a day,” Frady said.
Gaggle only filters certain software students use that are connected to school accounts. The software sorts flagged content from those accounts into one of three categories: a violation, questionable content (QCON) and possible student situation (PSS).
A report to District 51 as of Thursday shows the software has processed more than 81,000 emails and more than 13,000 files. It has sent the district notice of two QCONs and zero PSSs.
District 52 in Ninety Six began using Gaggle in July as well.
“You never want to lose a student. Our job is to educate and protect our students,” District 52 Superintendent Rex Ward said.
He mentioned the real-time aspect, too, recalling a Sunday evening when he got a call from Gaggle about a situation and was able to get the school principal and guidance counselor on the case immediately.
Gaggle is just one tool in districts’ belts that helps with student mental health.
School staff members do threat or risk assessments when school safety issues or student mental health crises occur.
District 51 Superintendent Fay Sprouse said there are definite stressors in children’s lives, mentioning having parents, in the home, poverty, abuse or domestic violence as a few stressors.
Ware Shoals Primary, as an example, checks with its students three times a day to see how they’re doing. A needs assessment is done at the middle school level, too, Sprouse said, so the school knows what students are dealing with and can provide support to help them cope, get through the issue, or deal with it on a daily basis.
“We just try to provide everything that we can to help our students be successful in all walks of life,” Sprouse said.
Beth Justesen, school counselor at Hodges Elementary in District 50, said at the elementary level, she is seeing more anxiety and depression among students she serves, especially since the pandemic.
She said parents should keep an eye out for changes in their child, such as sleeping patterns, eating patterns, and personal hygiene and grooming in children old enough to take on those responsibilities. Other changes in behavior such as irritability, social withdrawal and an overall sad mood should also be monitored.
“Keeping an open dialogue with your child is important regarding how they are feeling,” Justesen said.
“Also letting a child know that one’s mental health is as vital as their physical health. If a child is sick, we would seek help from a doctor. If a child is not emotionally well, help needs to be sought from a mental health professional.”