D202 board discusses school community mental well-being supports and strategies


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Evanston Township High School. During Monday’s board meeting, Associate Principal for Student Services Taya Kinzie led a presentation on supporting students and staff through crisis.

Olivia Alexander, Senior Staffer

Content Warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence and suicide.

Taya Kinzie, Evanston Township High School’s associate principal for student services, gave a brief update Monday on well-being support available to students and social emotional learning strategies. 

Kinzie’s presentation at an ETHS District 202 Board of Education meeting came after a Nov. 28 shooting in Evanston killed one teenager and injured four others. In response, she said the school’s crisis care team has provided grief and crisis support as well as individual and group mental health services.

“I really want to take a moment to recognize a tremendous need (for support),” Kinzie said. “Our mental health needs have increased throughout our nation for adolescents, and yet ETHS continues to be special in many ways. One of them is the ways we’re committed to prevent, intervene and support each other through crises.”

Compared to fall 2019, suicide risk assessments increased 100% and psychiatric hopsitalizations increased 50% this semester, Kinzie said. 

In light of this data, Kinzie said ETHS staff must quickly identify needs and guide students to the services that fit those needs. She added support and coordinating care is an ongoing responsibility for ETHS. But the high school needs significant staffing to help with this goal. 

The district uses the messaging “Acknowledge, Care, Tell,” which Kinzie said was developed to replace the mentalities of “don’t snitch” and secret-keeping regarding mental health concerns that are prevalent among teens. Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said these steps are vital to everyone at the school’s protection. If students have concerns related to self-harm or suicide, Kinzie said the school encourages students to share them. 

“‘Acknowledge, Care, Tell’ is really about our entire community,” Kinzie said. “It’s something we ask students to do, but it’s something we ask of our staff and all members of our school community.”

During public comment, Evanston resident Jennifer Karlovitzsaid she would have liked to hear more about conflict resolution when discussing a culture of care at the school. 

“The city of Evanston tells me that you guys pay $100,000 per year for the (school resource officers),” Karlovitz said. “I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, I would certainly like that to go to social workers.” 

Teachers are also playing a role in supporting student well-being, she said. They are implementing programs such as “Black Brown + Breathing” and “Rebel Human,” which both comprise mindfulness and meditation, to embed social emotional learning into their curriculum. 

Following the presentation, board member Pat Maunsell asked what proactive approaches the district is taking to support the school community. Teachers have already been using their roles and areas of expertise to incorporate mindful practices into student learning, and not all social emotional learning is curriculum-based, she said.

Board member Monique Parsons acknowledged the report’s constant importance and then asked how the board has improved its approaches since past years.

Kinzie said ETHS added two social worker positions two years ago. From conversations with other area schools, Kinzie said staff are stretched everywhere. She added the intensity of mental health crises that existed before the pandemic has only increased throughout the fall.

To this point, board members including Maunsell and Board President Pat Savage-Williams encouraged Kinzie to let the board know when more resources are needed.

“(In) the stories I hear from colleagues and friends around the country, we are not alone,” Maunsell said. “But I think we are unique in that this has been important to us, and we’ve recognized it in a deeper way, so let’s not lose that.”

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