Graphic reading: Commissioner's Student Advisory Council Virtual Meeting, July 7, 2021

Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council (SAC) were not shy to offer their feedback on plans for the upcoming student-led mental health roundtables, announced by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman last month.

Heather Dearing, director of legislative affairs for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, presented the plans to the members during a special meeting of the SAC on July 7.

“We are anticipating students may face unique challenges or struggles in their mental health, social health, emotional health and maybe even physical health upon returning to school in the fall,” Dearing said. Coleman – who also serves as secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet – wants to engage students across the Commonwealth in discussions about mental health issues to being working toward policy recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.

The events will take place mostly in September, with one event to be held in each of the seven different educational cooperative regions. The events will include closed-session and peer-facilitated roundtables, where attendees will be able to confidentially share stories about what challenges they have experienced and are expecting, resources that are needed, recommendations and more.

At the conclusion of each event, there will be an opportunity for attendees to hear from the peer-led groups as they report out to the larger group. After all of the events, the information will be synthesized and analyzed, and Coleman would like to work with the SAC members to discuss policy recommendations for the 2022 General Assembly. Findings and policy recommendations also will be shared at KDE’s Education Summit, scheduled for Nov. 1-2 at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

The mental-health roundtables are a partnership between the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, KDE, the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, the Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers Kentucky Educational Cooperatives and the Department for Behavioral Health, Development and Intellectual Disabilities.

Spandana Pavuluri, a junior at duPont Manual High School (Jefferson County), said while recruitment for the events should be open to everyone, it also could be targeted to build a more diverse group of participants.

“I think there’s benefits to both, just because not targeting can get a lot of students, but from an equity standpoint it’s really important we make sure everyone is represented,” said Pavuluri.

Pavuluri also had concerns about having an adult facilitator in each small group.

“I think it’s really important that we’re making sure that these conversations are authentically student dictated, and that’s why I don’t think there should be too much adult involvement on that front,” she said. “I think it may stifle some of the conversations that students may feel more comfortable having with each other.”

Dyllan Tipton, a senior a Spencer County High School, suggested that middle school students be included in the events. Roxanne Lockard, a senior a Craft Academy (Great Crossing High School, Scott County) agreed.

“Middle school, for me, was a time of self-discovery, and that’s when I was sort of figuring out my mental health and how to accommodate it,” said Lockard. “Just because they’re young, it doesn’t mean they’re not struggling. Starting discussions of mental health with younger students will help better set them up for high school and beyond.”

Charleigh Browning, a junior at Marion County High School, suggested adding an icebreaker into the agenda before the small groups dive into conversations in order to make students more comfortable with sharing.

“I feel like it’s important because you really need to scratch the surface before you get really deep into mental health,” she said.

Smaller volunteer workgroups will convene twice before the end of the month to discuss next steps in the planning process for the roundtables. Dearing invited the SAC members to volunteer to facilitate and assist with other roles at a regional event and assist with event promotion and student recruitment.

The SAC will discuss the mental health roundtables at its regularly scheduled meeting on July 20.