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Emotional And Behavioral Screenings May Soon Be Part Of CMS' Student Health Policy

CMS officials are updating the district’s student wellness policy to include a greater focus on student mental health needs.

The current policy focuses on physical health and nutrition and has not been updated since 2006.

With increased violence in schools, including the October shooting at Butler high school that left a 16-year-old student dead, CMS officials have included social and mental health needs of students in their security and school safety plans. School officials say they realize they need to find ways to pinpoint the emotional needs of students early and address them before they escalate.

As part of the new proposed policy for student wellness, a pilot program designed to gauge students’ emotional and social wellbeing will begin this spring.

Students at up to 30 schools will answer a series of questions that focus on how they perceive themselves in terms of growth, emotional control, resilience and social awareness. Their answers will be scored, compiled and made available to school officials, says Cotrane Penn, who oversees CMS’ student support services.

“Administrators, counselors, social workers and psychologists they will have the opportunity to look at that data along with instructional teams to determine what the areas of skill strengths and areas of growth are and they can then use that to information to develop the classroom guidance lessons,” Penn said.

Penn says the questionnaires can also help them to identify students struggling with emotional, behavioral and social issues before they act out, but implores testing is not for depression or anxiety.

"One concern I have is people may think it is psychological testing or that we’re screening for depression or anxiety when in fact we’re not. What we’re looking to screen for is whether students have the core social and emotional skills in order to achieve to their full potential as a student."

Those are skills Penn says they will need not just to stay out of trouble in school but to succeed in college or on a job after they graduate.

School board members are expected to vote later this month on the updated student wellness policy, which also calls for all students to have access to counselors, social workers and psychological services. If students’ emotional needs can’t be met by school support services, the plan requires the superintendent to ensure that partnerships with community partners are in place to provide assistance.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.