A few years ago, the Neosho school district in southwest Missouri realized it was in crisis. Their suicide rates between 2014 and 2018 were well above the national average. In fact, this small district of about 4,700 children averaged two suicides a year. They knew they had to act.
At that time, building-level counselor Tracy Clements was asked to take on her current position as director of counseling services for the district and tasked with establishing a suicide prevention plan. She recently set aside time to tell us about the tools they have in place to help reduce suicide rates and promote mental health. But moments after the conversation began, Clements was interrupted by an alert from the district GoGuardian Beacon system.
“The system analyzes online activity in real time,” Clements explains, “and alerts us when risky behavior is detected. This message may suggest self-harm.”
The notification was also sent to the building consultant, Clements explains. “She’ll meet the student today and say, ‘Hey, looks like you’re in trouble’ and help her through this. Maybe the student just needs a session with the counselor, or maybe we will have to refer him for outpatient consultations.”
EdSurge: Well, it’s clear that you felt the need to set up an alert system for students. How did you find GoGuardian Beacon to be the right tool for your district?
Clement: My first goal was to implement a good, solid suicide prevention plan. I had drafted one before starting my current position, but I had neither the authority nor the resources to implement it. When they created my current position, it opened a lot of doors for me.
We were already using the GoGuardian platform for device management, filtering, and instruction broadcasting. It manages the content our network accesses, blocking anything harmful or explicit. Teachers can also use the GoGuardian Teacher platform to see what kids are working on and ensure they stay on task.
When we heard about GoGuardian’s Beacon software, we did a demo and I thought, “I need this. It looks for suicide or self-harm activity on students’ school-managed accounts. We’ve also enabled a feature that provides students with a message on their screen when Beacon generates a suicide or self-harm alert. It not only informs our staff, but also deploys a pop-up on the student’s screen that acknowledges that they may be having suicidal thoughts and encourages them to contact a suicide prevention hotline or talk to someone you trust until we can reach him.
If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts or feeling hopeless, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
How do these alerts help you and your students during periods of remote or blended learning?
We started with Beacon in February 2019, just before the pandemic. It was perfect timing. When the world went dark and our students were all home, we had Beacon to help our school counselors identify students who might be struggling. We were very lucky. I just can’t imagine what that first year would have been like having all those kids at a distance and no way for us to tell if they were okay.
I think we have helped many children with Beacon. Beacon generated alerts and we reached out to parents to get the kids the help they needed. Active planning alerts allowed us to help students who were in crisis.
Can you explain what happens in these situations?
These come in the form of a phone call to my team from Beacon security specialists, rather than a text and email. We have had several instances where we received alerts about a student seeking ways to end their life. So, we immediately contacted the parents (in one case, I went to the student’s home when I could not reach the parents), and we were able to arrest students who were about to end their lives .
These close calls are the most powerful, but I think it does even more good in situations like the alert I just received. This student is asking for help. We are able to set up services before they reach the stage of an active planning alert, suicide attempt or risk of suicide attempt.
How would you describe Beacon’s overall impact on your district?
I really like this platform. It helps me do my job much more efficiently because I can’t be everywhere all the time. I’m sure we’ve saved the lives of many children, and I also think we’ve improved the quality of life for many others because we were able to put services in place.
We know that many children are not going to say, “I need help”. Often they can search online for ways to harm themselves before contacting a parent or professional. With Beacon in place, we are able to help children who might be struggling and offer support before things get too serious.
We lost a student to suicide in May 2018. It is always painful for our community to feel their absence. I never want to experience that again, either professionally or personally. It’s horrible. So I’m doing absolutely everything I can to try to make sure our community doesn’t have to go through this.