Student mental health should be Oregon City's priority
On Feb. 10, members from Unite Oregon City sat before our local school board with a PowerPoint presentation to address mental health in schools. The statistics for our county indicate that every day, over 30% of our eighth-grade and 11th-grade students feel depressed, a number that has been increasing since 2015. The same survey indicated that 20-30% of students have been bullied in the last 30 days. That is nearly a third of our students who are experiencing bullying each month.
Many members of our community have shared stories of bullying and harassment that their student has experienced while being at school. Several parents have heard the words — "that's just kids being kids" — and are left feeling unsupported.
Oregon City is no different than any other city in the country that experiences bullying and other mental health issues. Unite Oregon City wants to treat the problem as an opportunity to develop approaches that let us get ahead of the problem and be a model district in the county.
It's time to implement protective factors so our students can feel safe to come to school every day. The need to feel safe is a basic element in everyone's hierarchy of needs. If one-third of our students report feeling unsafe, it's time we take a proactive approach and build a community of kindness and emotional regulation. Unite Oregon City would like to work collaboratively with the schools in our district. We want to support these issues on a holistic level where students, both the victim and the perpetrator, learn skills and feel empowered to be upstanders.
Our solutions that support and empower faculty will help teachers know how to handle those hard situations. Solutions should help bridge parents and schools to give parents support and tangible resources for their families.
We offer an opportunity to the school board, and we hope they take advantage of it. Some solutions are so simple they could be implemented in the next few weeks with materials and resources the schools already have, as well as larger solutions for better policies at the district level. Unite Oregon City proposes the idea of forming a parent board group to work collaboratively, and not only establish a working relationship, but also to have transparency for what parents and the community can expect around these issues.
Oregon's Health Teen Survey revealed some disturbing statics regarding the mental health status of our youth, however Oregon City is no different than any other city that experiences bullying and other mental health issues. But where we can be different is our approach in how we get ahead of the problem.
Students can lead kindness efforts through challenging their peers to issue smile-grams, create positive visuals in the hallways and more. Many free evidence-based programs like Youth Mental Health First Aid and the ASSIST program through the American Society for Suicide Prevention are free or grant-based. The free No Place for Hate Program, which is successfully in place in Oregon City's Ogden Middle School, can be replicated in other schools.
In addition, the Student Success Act has 50% of its budget designated towards mental and behavioral health programs. That is very intentional, as the state itself recognizes the growing need for mental health support for our kids.
As parents and a community, Unite Oregon City would like to know what the district is planning to ask for from the Student Success Act during this current application phase, what the priorities of the district are, what the timelines are, and how we could support with input, communication and implementation.
Jeana Gannon-Gonzales, Stephanie Barton Cry, Mindy Redburn-Smoak and Tory Blackwell are members of Unite Oregon City, a grassroots group committed to advocating for community equality and inclusion.
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