Crisis Task Force

Walker County Board of Education members held a round table discussion with Rossville Middle School educators on Oct. 8 during the board’s planning session.

A Walker County school task force will tackle top social-emotional issues affecting students and schools.

The Walker school board, during it Oct. 8 planning session, announced a crisis task force will meet on Oct. 30 to discuss the top 10 issues affecting the school district and building frameworks to address them. Educators want to establish best practices to deal with the issues, allowing schools to tailor their responses, based on an individual school’s culture and student body.

“We are looking at trauma-informed strategies,” Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said, explaining that if educators know what is happening in a student’s life, they can work to calm the situation so that the student can focus on learning.

If students are not learning those coping skills in other areas, the school system will work to bridge those gaps to meet the student’s social-emotional needs, he said.

“The task force will be an ongoing component of what we do with our guidance counselors,” he said.

The task force, in place since March 2019, consists of social workers, counselors, school psychologists and the teacher of the year candidates, and the group will expand as it begins focusing on individual topics, he said. The group has already met a few times this year to select the top issues.

The superintendent said he currently receives input from the student government associations at the high schools and student wellness team, and this information can be shared with the task force to incorporate the perspective of students.

The board will also adopt baseline expectations to enable administrators to track data.

The task force is also reaching out to neighboring systems to share information because these issues are so common that every school system is probably looking at how to support its students’ social and emotional needs, he said.

Priorities

“Homelessness is becoming more and more of an issue,” he said. In Georgia, if a student does not live with a parent or immediate family member, the student is considered homeless.

To address food insecurity and clothing needs, Ridgeland and LaFayette high schools have a food pantry and clothes closet where students can discreetly get assistance. For example, students can pick up personal care products and clothing for interviews, and they can use the field house showers if they do not have hot water at home.

Board chairman Karen Stoker said she was floored to learn that suicide ranks second among the leading causes of death for adolescents and urged the board to prioritize this issue.

The school system wants to equip educators to spot early warning signs and to know how to respond to get a student considering suicide the help the student needs, Raines said.

The school board has requested a policy to address the use of cellphones and other devices in schools that balance providing students with that connection disrupting school activities; Raines expects to present the draft policy at the board’s November meeting.

Other issues include dating violence, vaping and digital citizenship skills.

Tailored approach

The tailored approach will allow individual schools to customize their approach to issues because an issue that poses a significant hurdle for many students at one school may not pose as much of a challenge at another school.

The Capturing Kids’ Hearts program at Rossville elementary and middle schools is designed to develop relationships with students.

Students who grow up in poverty often come to school in a fight-or-flight mode. The Capturing Kids Hearts program calms this response, facilitating students’ using their coping skills and learning, he said.

This program is less appropriate for Fairyland and North LaFayette elementary schools, which have lower poverty rates, he said.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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