Health and Wellness

Bridging the Online/Offline Gap in Protecting Student Wellbeing

By Justin Reilly

There’s an ongoing battle in America’s K-12 schools, and it’s for the sound mental health of students. Unfortunately, our kids are facing a serious crisis when it comes to their mental health. Ripple effects from the pandemic and other societal trends have resulted in increased anxiety, depression and stress. At the same time, students have more access than ever to digital devices with online capabilities in the classroom such as Chromebook and tablets.

When it comes to monitoring troubling activity online, resources are sparse. Schools have limited budgets and are also trying to tackle teacher burnout and staffing shortages—and, in some cases, a hybrid learning divide that puts students out of the eyesight of their teachers and other staff. A schism has grown in our classrooms, with important events and observations too often obscured behind a veil that separates student’s online activities from their offline presence.

So, what can be done about the critical state of mental health observation in schools? Tools need to evolve to meet the struggle, and a key component for success is the ability to bridge the online/offline gap and secure a holistic view of any given student’s physical and mental health. A technology-first solution can be the answer.

The State of the Challenge

There’s no putting it lightly: The challenge is steep. A new report from the CDC revealed that nearly three in five U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021—an increase of nearly 60 percent over the last decade. The CDC also reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents with nearly one in three considering attempting suicide—also an increase of nearly 60 percent from a decade ago.

Identifying this crisis is easier than finding a realistic way to address it given budget limitations and staffing shortages being faced by most schools. EAB, a consulting firm specializing in education institutions, found that 92 percent of superintendents acknowledge that the mental health crisis is getting worse. Seventy-nine percent say they don’t have the staff to give these kids the attention they desperately need, and 63 percent say they lack the budget to properly address the issue.

Building a Cost-Effective Bridge for Student Mental Health

There are two components to keeping track of student mental health—online and offline. Teachers are already outnumbered in crowded classrooms. When each student is accessing the internet on a personal digital device, teachers have little chance of catching everything that students might be looking up online. This means their ability to provide support and intervene with concerning searches is severely diminished.

A technology-based problem can be met with a technology-first solution. Specialized software can be used to automatically scan student activity on devices for potential warning signs. It could be something as simple as getting distracted and browsing the internet during class, or as serious as searching for information on self-harm, bullying, violence, drugs, pornography, other types of abuse or weapons.

The offline component can be populated by observations teachers make. This might include things such as a student with visible bruises, coming to class on a freezing winter day without a jacket, or even food insecurity concerns like no lunch or inconsistent lunch.

The ideal tool for tracking student mental health should combine all this information into a single portfolio, allowing teachers to connect the dots and move proactively on any potential threats, be they physical or mental, online or offline. Whatever approach is used, it’s essential that educators recognize the rift that has grown between the disparate online and offline worlds that students now occupy. The risk over overlooking either—or failing to connect the dots and see a larger picture spread across both—is simply too great.

Justin Reilly is the CEO at Impero.