Graphic reading: Commissioner's Student Advisory Council Virtual Meeting, March 22, 2022

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council heard updates on student mental health work and discussed a new Higher Education Matters Campaign launched by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education at its March 22 meeting.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Heather Dearing, deputy chief of staff for Coleman, shared student mental health data from across the Commonwealth, which had led Coleman’s office to prioritize improving mental health and increase access to mental health resources. Coleman and Dearing also shared data from the student-led mental health action summits that took place across the state last fall.

“We wanted to make sure that we were working to collectively and adequately prepare to meet the needs of students,” said Coleman.

The action summits were planned and designed in partnership with the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, educational cooperatives, the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Division of Family Resource Youth Services Centers.

Over 300 students from grades 6 through 12 attended the 10 summits last year.

Members of the Student Advisory Council analyzed every response to questions asked during the summits and came up with recommendations to improve student mental health in Kentucky schools.

Responses indicated that students want help but are not sure how or where to access it. Students said they need greater access to mental health clinicians in schools and updated suicide prevention training. The responses also showed that students feel overwhelmed and want schools to allow for mental health to be an excused absence for students and staff.

Student Advisory Council members shared their recommendations which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Six excused mental health days per school year;
  • Allocating funding for a licensed mental health professional to be on school campuses at all times in every K-12 school;
  • Peer mentoring for students who aren’t comfortable talking to an adult;
  • Requiring updated evidence-based and discussion-based mental health curriculum to foster a stigma-free environment;
  • Making suicide prevention materials and resources available in every classroom and administrative office, and implementing regularly updated suicide prevention curriculum at least twice a year;
  • Using trauma-informed curriculum to be mindful and respectful when addressing the needs of students regarding eating disorders;
  • Requiring schools and/or districts to provide student mental health check-ins that allow students to express their emotions and needs confidentially at least once a month;
  • Schedule time throughout the day and year to account for mental health and give academic and transitional breaks;
  • Incorporating student voice into all levels of decision-making through tiered interventions and instructional methods; and
  • Recognizing and respecting students’ preferred pronouns and using gender inclusive language in schools.

Dearing asked for feedback on next steps. Students said the data and recommendations should be shared statewide.

Council member Solyana Mesfin, a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County), mentioned visiting all the cooperative regions to share data from the summits, as well as getting feedback from students about what the next steps should be.

“I know we have sent all the data back, but I think it would be nice if we could discuss the data with the students and also get their perspective on how to move forward,” she said.

College-Going Campaign
Sue Patrick, chief communications officer for the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE), and Bruce Brooks, director of executive support and logistics for CPE, discussed their new Higher Education Matters campaign, which seeks to improve public understanding that postsecondary education is key to greater opportunity and economic growth.

The campaign seeks to combat the lack of information and misinformation about higher education.

The campaign supports CPE’s new strategic agenda for higher education, called “Higher Education Matters: A Statewide Strategic Agenda for Kentucky Postsecondary Education.” The eight-year plan, which includes input from hundreds of people from across the state, reinforces a “60 x 30 goal” – that 60% of working-age Kentuckians will have a college credential by 2030.

Patrick and Brooks sought feedback on what students think about college, why they think the college-going rate has been declining and what CPE can do to help.

“How are you all defining postsecondary education? What are the parameters of that in your head?” asked Brooks.

Council member Bentley White, a sophomore at the Kentucky School for the Deaf, said that in his experience, “it seems like it has always been college or university, but it’s not typically limited to that. It can be vocational school or anything that helps you go into the workforce after you finish high school.”

Many students said the words postsecondary education to them usually means college, but higher education is more encompassing and broader.

Brittany Lippert, associate director of marketing for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, shared resources from the Higher Education Matters webpage with students, which includes information on how to apply and pay for college or trade schools.

Kentucky Board of Education Application Review
Arivumani Srivastava, a senior at Gatton Academy (Warren County) and Application Review Special Committee chair, said the committee received 17 applications for the non-voting student member of the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) and discussed the candidates last week before choosing their top three applicants. The three applicants were submitted to the KBE subcommittee and will be reviewed before selecting a final candidate.

Srivastava said the committee is very confident that any of the three candidates will be a good replacement for current student KBE board member Solyana Mesfin.

In other business, the council:

  • Heard updates about the ACT 2022 Spring testing policy and testing progress. ACT state administration is moving online via a phased approach by the Spring of 2023.
  • Participated in a mindfulness activity with Damien Sweeney, the director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) at KDE. Sweeney also introduced Florence Chang, Ph.D., and Nicole Fields, Ed.D., who have joined KDE to help work on equity and community engagement and improve DEIB for all students.
  • Heard legislative updates from Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass on education-related bills.