Mental health, inclusivity and safety found as top student concerns in new Champion poll
Published Jan. 25, 2023
Editor’s Note: In the printed version of this story, which was published Feb. 14, Dr. Jacqueline Gilson, school psychologist, is quoted saying that she starts every session by letting the student know that no matter what they discuss, if she senses the student or someone else is in danger, she has to report it.
The article has been updated to reflect Dr. Gilson’s clarification: “If I sense that the student or someone else is in IMMEDIATE danger, I have to report it.” Dr. Gilson further clarified the distinction in an email: “This is an important distinction because … students fear that what they tell school support staff will generally be reported directly to their parents. Most of the time, this is not so. The word ‘immediate’ conveys that the circumstances are extraordinary. It is important that students feel that they have support staff at school to speak with as needed—without the constant worry about the information getting passed along. … When students speak with school counselors, social workers and psychologists, the conversations ARE confidential in all cases UNLESS there is evidence that someone is in IMMEDIATE danger. I may ask students for permission for me to convey what we are discussing to parents, teachers, etc. because open communication can be such a powerful tool, but we would not openly discuss these matters without student permission.”
When junior Brandon Collado looked at his new ID for this school year, he noticed that it looked a little different.
On the back of his ID it read: “Need Help For You or a Friend?” and included the numbers for the National Suicide Hotline, Crisis Text Line and the Safe2Help Illinois hotline.
For Collado, though he feels this is important, he says more is needed when it comes to mental health solutions for youth in Chicago.
“I feel that high school and school, in general, can be very taxing. … I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I don’t think it’s quite enough yet,” Collado said.
Collado isn’t alone in this thinking. In an anonymous December poll conducted by The Champion, 283 of 426 student respondents said they were either concerned or very concerned with mental health. The poll was conducted in partnership with the Scholastic Press Association of Chicago to determine top student issues ahead of the 2023 Chicago mayoral election.
A similar trend held up across the city. In polls conducted by student news organizations, including the one from The Champion, 782 of 1276 students from a mix of 11 neighborhoods, selective enrollment, charter and private high schools in Chicago, said they were concerned or very concerned with mental health. This was the highest statistical level of concern of any issue.
Mental health was the top issue for Lane students in the poll, with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts coming in second and school safety third. This was in comparison to other issues such as school funding, neighborhood violence and student media censorship. On a citywide level, the same three categories were of top concern.
“The school doesn’t do a very good job of addressing the root of mental health issues,” said Carolina Herrera, a sophomore and one of the respondents of the poll who agreed to speak to The Champion.
According to Herrera, part of the problem is that many mental health issues that arise for students are due to problems in their home life, but some students are “distrustful” of counselors regarding speaking to them about issues at home.
“Like, if I tell them this, they’ll call my parents. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a breakdown. Like I can’t go to the guidance counselors’ office because they’ll tell my parents I’m not in class,” said Herrera.
Every CPS employee is a mandated reporter and required by law to report suspected neglect or abuse, according to CPS official policy and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.
Lane’s full-time school psychologist, Dr. Jacqueline Gilson, told The Champion that every year, CPS staff go through DCFS-mandated reporter training. Gilson starts off every session by letting the student know that no matter what they discuss if Gilson senses the student or someone else is in immediate danger, she has to report it.
Gilson stated that she understands if a student is worried about speaking about a situation at home, but finds that often in the long run, reporting the situation will help the student in the end.
“Very often, I’ll see there’s a system [in a family] that has been established and you lose all objectivity. Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable or very difficult when someone reports an allegation of abuse or neglect,” Gilson said, “But very often, that’s exactly what the family needed to kind of shake things up. And realign how things are, and help people realize ‘we were in it and we didn’t realize how off-track we were.’ So it’s almost always beneficial. Maybe not in the short term, but certainly in the long term.”
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
Closely following mental health, students responded that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts were a top concern. 195 Lane respondents were either concerned or very concerned. But despite the level of concern with the topic, some students see improvements in DEI efforts at Lane.
Recent initiatives from Lane have aimed at highlighting student diversity through more heritage celebrations, as well as a monthly culture and climate newsletter.
“I think Lane Tech does a pretty good job [with DEI],” Herrera said. “I really, really enjoyed the Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations. I love having Latino music playing in the hallways in the mornings. It kind of just made the school feel so much more comfortable to be in.”
At Local School Council (LSC) meetings, Principal Edwina Thompson has discussed equity as a recent topic of interest for Lane. Lane’s Professional Personnel Leadership Committee (PPLC), a committee that gives teachers a say on curriculums and instruction, has worked to change late-work and missing-work policies to better adapt to students who may have busy schedules that limit their time for work out of school.
“I do believe the adults are responsive and willing to work with students on issues,” Collado told The Champion. “I’ve heard my teachers talk about they’re understanding if you had a very busy or stressful weekend, you need an extra day or two for an assignment. And I feel like just having that option is a very good place to start.”
Some student respondents saw cultural divides and bullying within the building as issues, while others thought Lane did a decent job dealing with those issues.
“My school is more civil compared to others. Our problems do not really span from violence or inclusion of people socially,” one poll respondee answered anonymously in the poll.
Junior Nick Lee did see one area where the school can improve. He mentioned an AP Language class where he read a book about child marriage in the Middle East. Learning about other cultures and issues around the world, he said, can help students and issues inside Lane.
“I’ve found that in a lot of places at Lane there’s just a lot of issues between pretty much anybody of anything differing because that’s just how society works,” Lee said. “And Lane can’t do much about that. But at the same time, what they can do is they can work more towards education.”
SCHOOL SAFETY WITH OVER 4,000 STUDENTS
The final topic of concern most commonly shared among poll respondents was school safety.
Lane’s security procedures, which remain mostly confidential due to safety concerns, have changed on a somewhat frequent basis in recent years. This school year, Lane has attempted multiple times to change metal detector protocols and equipment to keep the school safe.
Collado has mixed feelings about Lane’s security entrance protocols.
“I feel that Lane Tech is doing well on school safety with the situation of the metal detectors at the door,” he said. “However, I also feel that they seem to check people at random and if they were trying to check everyone they’re not succeeding at that. They’re not checking enough people.”
Lee agreed, calling Lane’s ID checking and metal detector procedures “security theater.”
“It’s not checking everybody, it’s checking someone. The chances [of something bad happening] decrease, but ultimately not much is happening,” Lee said.
In the past, screening every student has led to long entrance lines of students.
Lane has gone through multiple security changes in recent years, stemming from the removal of School Resource Officers in the summer of 2020. Following the removal, Lane got an updated security camera system and this summer Lane had a request for more security guards granted after being denied in recent history.
“I felt like the school resource officers were just sort of like an unspoken threat, more so than like, a means of keeping people safe,” one student who preferred to remain anonymous told The Champion.
“I personally felt like bringing guns into school regardless of who has them is just never going to end well,” they said.
In an interview with The Champion after the Jan. 15 Mayoral Candidate Forum, mayoral candidate and activist Ja’Mal Green also said that he does not support adding police officers in schools.
“It actually traumatizes students, and data has shown that students in schools feel more trauma when they have police officers with guns walking around the school buildings, and they’re more on high alert,” Green said.
Green stated that to increase public safety, in the community and in schools, the city needs to address the root problems instead.
“We’ve got to tackle what’s going on with our obsession with guns and we’ve got to tackle what’s going on in the neighborhoods that are coming from poverty, and [find] alternatives,” Green said. “So that these problems that we’re having come in…don’t exacerbate into our schools and our kids are safe.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by an anonymous poll taker who commented on the poll that, “lockdown drills, metal detectors, and SROs are solutions to the wrong problem.”
“Increasing regulation on guns is one solution, but in the city, people tend to own guns because they don’t feel safe in their own communities,” they said. “These environments are fostered and perpetuated by racism and economic inequality. If people in these areas had jobs, food, houses, and decent public education, they wouldn’t have to resort to crime to make ends meet.”
OTHER STUDENT CONCERNS IN 2023
While the main three concerns in the poll and throughout interviews were safety, inclusion and mental health, respondents did mention concerns about several other issues, especially when it came to national issues.
When asked to pick issues that impact or concern them the most, 156 of 426 Lane respondents selected reproductive rights and 153 picked cost of living increases. Over 100 students picked poverty, inflation, healthcare and global warming as answers.
One anonymous poll taker wrote that it’s important for the next mayor of Chicago to not be mainly focused on municipal financial development.
“We’re looking for a mayor who cares about the people and community, not just the economic gains,” one respondent said. “While I cannot begin to fathom how difficult being a mayor is, it would benefit [the city] to be more accessible and specific to all Chicagoans.”