In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. which left 17 students dead, mental health is a major concern within the public school community.
Montgomery County Public Schools is taking a proactive approach to intervene early to prevent similar events from taking place, according to spokesperson Melissa Rivera.
Within each school, MCPS relies on teachers and school psychologists to interact with students and initiate conversations about violence.
“We try to help the psychologists to understand how to work with the students and how to talk with them about violence situations that occur,” said Dr. Christina Conolly.
Conolly explained school psychologists are prepared for difficult conversations with students according to recommendations of the National Association of School Psychologists.
“We want to make sure that the administrators and staff are reassured that the students are safe and to make time to talk with them if they have questions,” she said.
Each conversation and interaction, according to Conolly, is done in an appropriate manner based on the age of the student.
“At each school level we have teachers talking to students in the classroom … some schools might bring in the mental health staff to talk with the students.” she said.
Conolly added that the psychologists also advise parents to avoid having their students watch violent images repetitively.
“If you see it once, don’t watch it repeatedly because that can cause issues with bad dreams,” she said.
Due to their exposure to news and social media, Conolly explained that adolescents could be prepared to have a conversation about the specific event due to their advanced understanding over elementary school students.
With elementary school students, teachers and staff may take the “Mr. Rogers perspective,” and explain that the people suffering are being helped, according to Conolly.
“You’re having conversations at all levels but you’re going to make it developmentally appropriate,” she added.
Social media, as Conolly explained, accelerates the spread of information and can make students prone to reading incorrect information.
“I also want to warn folks to make sure the information they’re reading is accurate,” she said. “People are posting things and you have to be able to verify the source and understand what is news, what is opinion.”
In terms of having proactive measures, Conolly explained there is no profile in identifying students with violent tendencies but explained the county is currently introducing a suicide prevention program.
“Within the video that students watch, it talks about kids that are demonstrating signs for suicide and demonstrating signs of potentially hurting somebody,” she explained. “The main point of the program is that it teaches kids how to act, how to acknowledge their friends’ feelings.”
Conolly cautioned against creating a profile of potentially violent students explaining “there are multiple risk factors.”
“Everything is done on a case-by-case basis and we work as a team,” she said. “There are multiple factors that can impact how and why that child may want to harm someone.”
Conolly said that in some cases school psychologists and staff may do home visits and issue referrals to outside agencies and therapists.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, statistics show that bullying and being involved in violent altercations are two of the highest contributors to school related violence.