December 18, 2020: Student Mental Health and Bryan Partnership

This week, LPS Communications Director Mindy Burbach gives a pandemic update on the new COVID-19 dashboard. Don visits with Brenda Leggiadro, Supervisor for Counseling and School Social Work about student mental health. Also, Matt Larson, Associate Superintendent for Instruction, and James Blake, director of Strategic Initiatives and Focus Programs talk about an exciting new focus program being developed.

Do you have a question you’d like answered? Submit your questions here.

Join us for our next “LPS Board Update” on Friday, Jan. 8 at noon. You will be able to find it on the LPS website, the LPS Facebook page, and the LPS YouTube Channel.

Video Transcript

Don Mayhew 0:18
Hello, I’m Don Mayhew, one of your Lincoln Board of Education members and welcome to LPS board update. This show is an opportunity for us to learn more about what is happening around Lincoln Public Schools. And for you, our community to ask questions. Joining me is LPS communications director Mindy birbeck. Welcome, Mindy. Let’s start off with a pandemic update. Last week at the board meeting, it was announced that we’re updating our COVID-19 dashboard on our website. How did the dashboard change?

Mindy Burbach 0:48
Yeah, Don, you know, our we have our computing services staff and our website manager are working together with risk management and health services to figure out how we could pull the data into a more meaningful dashboard for our community. And so we rolled that out on our website last Monday, our dashboard used to update once a week on Thursdays now it will be updated daily by 6am. On the left is a blue box. And that shows the current week at a glance that breaks it down by students and staff who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. It also shows the current number of students and staff for exclusion and exclusion means either they’ve been tested positive for COVID-19. So they need to self isolate, or they’ve been identified as a close contact, either in the household or out in the community or in our schools. And so they need to self quarantine. On the right in the red shows the district cumulative of unique students and staff testing positive are excluded since the beginning of the school year. So if a student is identified several times that they need to be excluded, they’re only going to be counted once on that in that red box. In addition, we’ve added a line graph to show trends. So you can see a chart with the week to week totals. And then these will be updated as we get new information and confirmation from the health department. So if we get more information from the health department about tests that came in last week, those will be added to that graph down at the bottom. And finally, we’ve added tabs at the top. So you can see the breakdown between elementary, middle and high schools along with the other programs we have. And that includes other buildings like our district office transportation, or our operations buildings, hopefully on this will allow our community to see real time information in addition to those messages that we send home anytime there’s a positive COVID-19 case reported in a school building.

Don Mayhew 2:32
I’ve got to tell you as a board member, I really appreciated seeing this update at the board meeting before I know that there are a lot of people with questions. And I don’t know if you have any statistics at hand. But I know that our website gets a lot of hits and the the section where we explain our response to to COVID. That information I know gets a lot of hits. So I know that people are very interested in this data and having it be more real time. I know it’s going to be well received. So thank you, Mindy for that update. On our broadcast. Today we have several guests that we’re going to be talking with. First we’ll be visiting with Brenda, the judge, row supervisor for counseling and school social work about student mental health. And then we will talk with Matt Larson, associate superintendent for instruction, and James Blake, Director of strategic initiatives and focused programs to talk about an exciting new focus program that’s being developed.

Mindy Burbach 3:26
And while we don’t have a board meeting next week, if you have any questions about what you’ve heard today, you can ask on our Facebook page or on our website Just click on the blue contact us button and we will work on answering your questions before the next episode in January. Don, are you ready to get started with your first guest?

Don Mayhew 3:43
I’m excited let’s get started. last school year, the Board of Education made student mental health a priority for our schools through our strategic planning and budgeting process. We recognize that this has a huge impact on learning outcomes. The anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic weighs heavily not only on adults, but on children too. Many students have struggled last spring when we canceled classes for the rest of the school year. And the ongoing pandemic continues to put additional burdens on our students. Joining me to talk more about how LPS is supporting student mental health and ways parents can support their children is Brenda Leggiadro, supervisor for counseling and school social work. Brenda, thank you for joining me today.

Brenda Leggiadro 4:27
Thank you for having me Don, and thank you for the board’s emphasis on student mental health. We appreciate it.

Don Mayhew 4:34
It’s it’s been a priority in many of our conversations over the last couple of years as you know. And at the beginning of this school year, your team conducted a survey with students to gauge how they were handling the pandemic both last spring and how they were feeling as we approached the school year. What did you learn from that survey?

Brenda Leggiadro 4:54
We had the survey as part of a bigger lesson in order We call it a teachable moment lesson. And teachers presented that lesson to their students in the classroom. So the lesson was a little bit about, you know, what have you noticed that’s different with a pandemic? How are you feeling about it? What feelings have you noticed in other people? It encouraged students to identify and use the positive coping strategies that they that they have. It also highlighted the mental health supports we have available at school. We have school counselors in all of our high schools and middle schools. And we’re up to half of our elementaries now, thanks to the board’s initiative. We have school social workers that serve all of our buildings, we have school psychologists that serve all of our buildings, a handful of psychotherapists are in our schools. And then we have the school nurses who are also part of the mental health team. So that lesson sort of set the stage for the survey then that asked more detailed questions about what was remote learning like for you? And how do you feel about coming back to school? So we had some some really good information from students. The pandemic, of course, is so stressful for all of us adults, it was certainly stressful for students too. But we were a little surprised to learn that little more than half of the students said that it was okay for them. They adapted pretty well, about a quarter said they hated it. And about a quarter said they loved it. So there was a pretty wide range in opinions about it. But that was one of the things we asked about was just, you know, how how did how was remote learning for you? Then we ask what were some of the things that were most challenging, and it’s probably a surprise to no one who has children, that they miss their friends, they that social connection was just so critical. And most of us adults are feeling that too. Just that disconnect from people that we’ re accustomed to being around and being able to go somewhere and hang out with our friends is super important to young people. So that came through loud and clear.

As students got back to school in the fall and August, they were generally really excited and happy to be coming back. Some of them were nervous, some of them said that they were worried about being behind in school, and they certainly had stressors that that emerged also. But they also had some pretty good coping strategies. Many of them said that they listened to music as a coping strategy. They like to talk to their friends. Again, no, no big surprise. But they knew how to calm themselves by taking deep breaths or going for a walk or doing something physical. So we were really pleased to see that they knew a lot of strategies, and they generally said that they they would use them much of the time. Another question we asked had to do with Do you have someone who listens to you and helps you through difficult times, and an overwhelming majority 80 some percent said that they had someone who they could go to if they if they were having difficulty, most often, that was a friend or a family member. But 60% said that almost 60% said that they had an adult at school that they felt they could turn to if if they had something difficult that they were working through. So we were we were pleased with that information as well. We asked at the very end of the survey a little bit more about their experiences with COVID and 2600 students, and this is in August, said that they had someone either in their family or in their close friend group who had been sick with COVID. And 1400 knew someone who had been hospitalized or had died from the virus. And that was in August. So that also told us you know, kids are probably experiencing a fair amount of grief and loss. So that was an important thing that we gain from the survey to the very last question was is there anything you would like to tell us that we haven’t asked you and many students responded with with some concerns either about academic needs, or they just wanted to tell somebody something positive that it happened, so they told us that. Or they were concerned about friends mental health or their own mental health. And then they were given the option to put their name on the survey. And if they put their name and said that they wanted someone to follow up, then one of our school-based mental health professionals followed up with them to just check in and find out if they wanted to talk more, make appropriate referrals as needed to additional support. So we really gained a lot of information from that survey and it was very helpful to do at the start of the school year.

Don Mayhew 10:02
Yeah, it sounds like it a lot of good questions asked a lot of good information that we’ve gotten. I’m glad that we are going after that kind of feedback and that we are responding to it. Let me ask I know one of the themes that came out of the survey, and you mentioned this was that students felt disconnected, especially those that were in remote learning. What have the schools put into place to help students feel more connected?

Brenda Leggiadro 10:25
Well, one of the things we try to do is provide social skills groups and friendship groups. And so in our classrooms, we encourage teachers to do more of the community building activities so so that every student in every classroom had a chance to feel more connected to their classmates. It’s important to do that when we’re in person. But thinking about somebody who’s a zoom learner and doesn’t have a physical contact with other students, it’s really important to figure out ways to loop them into the activities of the classroom. And then we had social skills groups that we offered to students like lunch bunch type groups where kids could get together and have lunch together and do that over zoom. We offered some friendship groups, to elementary students in particular, who are 100% zoom learners, because we knew those were the kids least likely to have access to cell phones or other devices where they could maybe text or communicate with their friends. So those are a few of the things that we were able to implement this this fall.

Don Mayhew 11:30
So a lot going on in the schools and in the classrooms to help kids feel connected. But what about outside of the classroom, I know that we are very lucky to have a strong community network that helps us support students and families. How are we working with community partners?

Brenda Leggiadro 11:46
Well, that’s one of the strengths of Lincoln we have. We have a great community and a community of therapists and mental health professionals that want to work with us. So we currently have partnerships with Hope Spoke Family Service, Blue Valley behavioral health, Morningstar, counseling, and Lutheran Family Services. So we have therapy that happens at our school sites, that’s individual therapy for students. And then the the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools, wrote a CARES grant that increased the amount of therapy, individual therapy, that we could have available to students during first semester. So we’ve been able to really partner and do a lot of great things with our therapy services, because of those community partners that we have.

Don Mayhew 12:34
What about for parents, who are wondering about what they can do to support their child who might be struggling?

Brenda Leggiadro 12:42
Yeah, one of the things that that we really want to try to do is give information to parents, because we know parents are under a great deal of stress, as are all of all of us working through this pandemic. So we created a social and emotional supports page at the LPS website. And that’s a place that we’ve put some resources that can be easily accessed anytime of the day or night. There are some numbers for help lines where families can call if they like to reach out to somebody and just talk about what’s going on with them. And then one of our partners, Blue Valley behavioral health put together a short four part series for parents called mental health one on one just sort of explained some of the challenges that parents might observe in their children, and explains what therapy is and how they might use therapy to help address some of those concerns. So we’ve got a few things out there that that are available. 24 seven, and then of course, we want to encourage families to contact their school counselors, school, social worker, school psychologists, etc. to let us help if there’s something happening at home. That’s, that’s very concerning. We’re happy to engage because we know that that has an impact on learning. And we want our students to be successful, not just academically, but socially, emotionally as well,

Don Mayhew 14:08
of course, so parents get stuck, they can always reach out to their school building. But the webpage that you talked about how do parents find that on our website, is there a search keyword

Brenda Leggiadro 14:18 And then under the pandemic plan, you’ll see a link to social and emotional supports.

Don Mayhew 14:25
Brenda, thank you so much for spending time with us today to talk through this, but also for your work and all of our social workers and counselors for their work and supporting our students and our families. Thank you so much.

Brenda Leggiadro 14:35
Thank you, and thank you again to the board for all your support and everything you’re doing to help make sure we give the students of Lincoln the best opportunities we can.

Don Mayhew 14:46
All right, we are switching gears a bit with some exciting news. Through the strategic planning process, along with work from the high school Task Force, the board adopted expanded focus expanding focus programs as one of its goals. Earlier this fall, we announced a new partnership with UNL and the College of Agricultural Sciences and natural resources for a new focus program located in northeast High School. On Thursday, we joined Bryan College of Health Sciences to announce a new medical science focused program to open with the new high school located in northwest Lincoln in the fall of 2022. Here today to tell us more about this new focus program is Matt Larson, Associate Superintendent for Instruction and James Blake, Director of Strategic Initiatives in Focus Programs. Welcome, and thank you both for joining us.

Matt Larson 15:32
Thank you.

James Blake 15:32
Thank you.

Don Mayhew 15:33
All right, Matt, let’s start with you. First of all, I know you’re one of the busiest people in the district office right now. And you were on our broadcast last week as well. Thank you so much for your time in joining us. I know that staff have been working for several years on exploring the choices that we offer students, what is the process behind deciding what is going to be a focus program?

Matt Larson 15:54
That that’s a great question, Mr. Mayhew. And what I’d say is it’s a very careful, deliberate and lengthy process. I think the the the process that got us to the point where we had the announcement Thursday about the Bryan College of Health Sciences partnership, was three or more years in the making. We had a high school taskforce that looked carefully at this question. We had a high school options taskforce that Dr. Joel put together that looked at this, there were surveys of parents to to seek parent input on what they thought was important in terms of focus programs and options for students. We surveyed students themselves, what do they think is important, what would be of interest to them, we took a careful look at the statistics in terms of employment opportunities and career opportunities in our community and nationally as well to see what opportunities students students would have in the future. Dr. Blake and others took a number of trips around the country to look at focus programs and career academies and similar such offerings in specialized high schools and programs in certain areas of the country to see what was being done was being successful. What students had a great deal of interest in and so certain areas bubbled to the top. And certainly the medical sciences are one of those areas. And then we had some ongoing conversations we were we were actually approached by the Bryan College of Health Sciences, to seek a partnership and move forward and doing that we were careful to keep in mind what we were already doing. And then you care very carefully over a period of time work out curriculum, you work out options, you work out partnership details, and you reach the exciting point that we reached on Thursday where we were ready to announce this partnership. And we’re really excited about it, because it it expands opportunities for our students in an in an area where there are a growing number of career options available to them.

Don Mayhew 18:01
The process that you describe, it really resonates with me with I think there’s a lot of overlap with other things that we have done huge initiatives. First, where we’re looking at what other places are doing things that are working things that are not working. And also there’s such a huge component of going out to the community and getting feedback. And I’m glad to hear that, that we’re doing all of those things. And also, that concept of partnership and collaboration. I know that those are all things that remain true every time we have a big process like this. James, let’s go to you because we are adding more focused programs, it was clear that we needed someone to coordinate these efforts. And last year, you were moved into the position of Director of strategic initiatives and focused programs. What does that mean? What is your role with the focus programs?

James Blake 18:50
All right, so in addition to working with community partners to develop new focus programs, as we’re talking about with Matt, I get to support existing Arts and Science focused programs. So the job does come with two hats, I get to be a principal for two focus programs, the arts and science focused programs. That’s a position that’s been around for a few decades and LPS, the new aspect or the Strategic Initiatives part is working across buildings. So that’s where I get to where the director hat. So to provide our students these new programs that we’re talking about that potentially lead Nebraska and the US, it takes a significant amount of time and energy to explore and get to know each other as partners. So most of those involved in these projects, as you’ve heard mentioned, with Bryan College of Health Sciences, are doing this on top of a day job. They’re leaders in their organizations, and LPS, which comes with a lot on their plates. So my role, I think, is really to ensure somebody is waking up every day thinking about the partnership, which hopefully leads to a high level of trust necessary to do this work together successfully, which includes troubleshooting when we’re going to run into challenges.

Don Mayhew 19:59
Well, and I think that’s another LPS theme to where we have a lot of very intelligent, hardworking people who already have full dance cards in terms of having their, you know, full time job. And then we ask them to do more things. So thank you for that. And I’m glad that we have you in this position. And I know we’ve been working for a while on this partnership that was announced Thursday with Bryan College of Health Sciences. Tell us more about the new medical health sciences focus program. How will this work at the new high school

James Blake 20:28
very excited to talk about this. So much like our launch that you mentioned in September with UNL at Lincoln Northeast this program will impact the whole school at the Northwest 48th and Holdrege site. So there’s going to be two layers to this. There’ll be a pre-pathway for all freshmen and sophomores which by default, if you attend that school, you’re going to be in the pre-pathway. So you’ll experience medical example examples and current LPS classes. And then the pathway which I’ll talk about for juniors and seniors who will attend the new school and decide to enter the program does have some of those opportunities with dual credit. So if you decide after your sophomore year or you transfer in for your junior year, you may want to enroll in the pathway, which includes up to 13 credits of college level coursework, starting with introduction to health professions move on to anatomy and physiology and CNA and phlebotomy training. So a number of online general education courses at Bryan College of Health Sciences will be available to students as well. The face to face courses will be taught within the high school by jointly credentialed LPS Bryan College of Health Sciences instructors, where students will receive dual credit, both high school and college credit for those courses.

Don Mayhew 21:45
That’s neat. And just like with our Career Academy, that’ll be a great benefit for kids being able to while they are taking their high school classes, be able to also finish up with some college credits under their belts as well. I think you already started to address this a little bit but let me ask what are some of the benefits of partnering with Bryan College of Health Sciences?

James Blake 22:05
Well, Bryan College of Health Sciences will be an amazing partner. They will not only make it possible to offer students these high quality college courses but also contribute to the development of healthcare workforce of the future. So when I think highlight of this program, high school students will be grouped with Bryan College of Health Sciences mentors taking advantage of their robust mentoring programs they already have in place. It’ll be an opportunity for our students to learn and grow from students who are already living the life of a healthcare student. In addition to mentoring, Bryan will provide immersive activities for dual enrolled students, which may include labs held on the Bryan College of Health Sciences Campus, or shadowing experiences at Bryan Medical Center.

Don Mayhew 22:50
So since our students will be able to earn college credit, will they also be paying tuition?

James Blake 22:55
Yes, there is a reduced tuition rate offered as a special price to LPS from Bryan College of Health Sciences just during that junior senior year. The Foundation for LPS will be setting up scholarship funds to help with those who may not qualify qualify for other assistance, but still may be in the low to moderate income families. We estimate about 10% of students will need some kind of financial assistance each year, we really want to remove all barriers to education that we can access to rigorous STEM education needs to be accessible to all of our students, regardless of family income.

Don Mayhew 23:28
Great, thank you, James. Matt, back to you for a second. I know that we already have a medical pathway at The Career Academy, it’s been very popular, it’s been very successful. How will this Focus Program be different from the program at The Career Academy?

Matt Larson 23:43
That’s another really important question. What I want to emphasize is that in no way does this new medical sciences Focus Program compete with the Health Sciences pathway at TCA. They complement one another rather than compete. And that’s really the critical point. We’re just opening up additional opportunities to students all across the city of Lincoln. They’ll offer some different sort of pathways as has been mentioned, the Health Sciences pathway at TCA is full. Last I knew there were over 150 students in that particular pathway, particularly in the Certified Nursing program, we turn students away so there is room to expand that some more students have an opportunity to take advantage of that education. Some of the major pathways that students take at TCA include, you know, the EMT, which wouldn’t be Bryan College of Health Program, they’re doing physical therapy aides doing pharmacy technology, dental technology programs that won’t be available out at the Bryan College of Health Sciences programs. So they really do complement complement one another They don’t compete. Again, I really think if you look at career opportunities in the near future, we know that one of the fastest growth areas is in the health sciences. And by having both TCA. And the program, a new Northwest high school site, will be giving the the students of Lincoln an opportunity to get access to that fast growing career pathway. And, you know, a high demand high wage and high skill career as well.

Don Mayhew 25:30
Well, I think that this is a neat announcement, I think that this is a great development, development. And as you said, Matt is going to provide more choices for students, which is fantastic. Again, I know you’re both very busy. Thank you so much for taking the time with us to discuss and explain this to the folks who might be watching this video. And as always, thank you so much for your work for our children. Thanks, guys.

Matt Larson 25:51
Thank you,

Mindy Burbach 25:53
Don, again, two great conversations with Lincoln Public Schools staff about the work that’s going on in our district. When you were talking with Brenda Leggiadro, she mentioned and you mentioned the priorities of mental health, there was a lot of discussion back in the budgets and strategic planning about increasing support for student mental health. What was the conversation? Was the board around that? Why was there such a need to improve our supports for student health?

Don Mayhew 26:21
Well, you’re right. And this is something that we’ve actually been discussing for several years, and we’ve been making gains making changes to our budget, to try to funnel more resources into mental health supports. And the reality is, this is just a growing need in our community and in our district, that our administrators, our principals and our teachers have been observing and we felt that we needed to do something to try to provide some more supports, it’s very common for board members to visit school buildings. And for quite a while I couldn’t go to a building without having a principal, tell me some kind of a story about a student who was having trouble getting into the building due to anxiety, or other issues and recognizing that a lot of our children have needs that were that we did not have resources to properly address. And it just became evident as a board that we needed to start funneling even more resources into those supports for our kids.

Mindy Burbach 27:20
I think it’s so important, and I’m so glad and thankful that the board recognized it, and that the staff recognized it and that we were able to work on addressing those those priorities. I thought, Oh, go ahead.

Don Mayhew 27:32
I just gonna say especially in a year like this, with the pandemic, having those, those supports in place and being on a path to continue to add more. It’s just so important.

Mindy Burbach 27:44
I think another thing that was very interesting in both of those conversations that you had today was that surveys, I we do so many ways of engaging with our community and our parents and our staff and getting their input before we make a decision. And I think that’s something that maybe our community doesn’t realize how much we’re asking for input. And I know that’s an important thing for the board as well.

Don Mayhew 28:06
It is it’s very important. We’re not sitting in a room making these decisions. And it’s important to us to reach, reach out for feedback from stakeholders from the community, ask questions about what their experiences are like. And when by the time we get to a point where we are making a decision. We want to be as informed as possible on the effects that our decisions are having on people. So that’s something that is very important to us getting that feedback. All right, so we are out of time for this broadcast. We are not going to have a live show next week. Our next LPS board update will be Friday, January the eighth at noon. And our next board meeting is Tuesday, January 12.

Mindy Burbach 28:47
If you have any questions about what you’ve heard here today, you can ask that on the LPS Facebook page or on our website Click on the blue contact us button and we will work on answering your questions before our next episode in January.

Don Mayhew 29:00
All right, thanks so much Mindy, and Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and thanks everybody for watching.

Mindy Burbach 29:05
Thank you