Fourth-grader Leah Rainey from Cecilia, Kentucky, is greeted at school each morning by her teacher and a computer screen. Her teacher smiles and asks her a few questions to determine what kind of mood she’s in, to which she doesn’t verbally respond.
Leah is cheerfully greeted with, “It’s great to see you. How are you feeling?” She then clicks an emoji that indicates happy, sad, frustrated, angry, silly, tired, or calm, and this sets the tone for the morning.
Her answer automatically generates a cartoon-like avatar that helps her manage her current mood. Depending on the one selected, she’s then asked to respond to other questions such as “Have you eaten breakfast,” and “Are you hurt or sick?” She’s asked if everything is okay at home and if she’s being bullied, and so forth.
Leah isn’t enrolled in any special learning classes and she’s perfectly able to speak. She’s just one of the typical 240 students at Lakewood Elementary School who all get greeted this way every morning.
In the broader spectrum, she’s but one of the thousands of students at thousands of schools throughout the nation that have adopted this new technology to alert them if a child is in distress. It enables teachers to address emotional issues before they fester into disaster.
The long term effect of isolation from the pandemic has left many children with anxiety and a lack of social skills. Some of them come from troubled homes. School had at one time been their only escape from the unfortunate reality they were forced to live with 24/7, and in many instances, the scars are hard to detect.
Just last year students suffered an unparalleled mental health crisis as teenage suicides experienced an exponential explosion of new cases. Schools across the nation are now dipping into leftover federal pandemic money to increase mental health staffing and institute new programs for detecting mental instability.
Some naysaying parents are adamantly against schools prying into their child’s state of mental health. It’s a family issue to deal with if it needs to be dealt with at all. Schools are planting ideas into young impressionable minds and making students feel guilty if they don’t have a problem.
Who’s surprised that this has turned into a political flashpoint? While liberals are dancing around the maypole, conservatives are saying that schools are using the new programs to advance their flower child agendas on race, sexuality, and gender.
They say that placing so much emphasis on being “politically correct” with the idea that singing Kumbaya is going to solve the mental health crises, is taking too much emphasis off of academics.
Some schools are offering ‘take a break’ corners and ‘time-out’ rooms for students who might be nearing their emotional breaking point, or for when they just don’t like the class they’re in.
Discipline, as in days of yore, has taken a radical new approach where excuses are accepted without question and disruptive students no longer receive after-school detention. They get sentenced to counseling by a licensed school mental health therapist to determine why they won’t stop chewing gum in class or quit tugging on Mary Lou’s pigtails.
It’s the basic assumption that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. If one kid has mental health issues, they all do, even if they don’t. The assumption is there and it’s up to the student to prove otherwise.
Students have less of a problem with all of this than their parents. It pretty much gives them the leeway to do and act out however their heart desires, knowing if caught, they can just blame it on having a bad day.