eSchool News: Connecting Vulnerable Students to Services
eSchool News Best Practices

By Christina Mann, Eudora, Kansas

“As part of a Safe Schools/Health Students (SSHS) grant initiative, we were able to pull together community resources and services for our students. However, we quickly realized that it is not enough to have programs in place. We needed a management system to ensure equity in access to important community resources, services, and programs, and that would actually identify needs and connect students to services. Unless we could close the leaky pipeline in the identification and referral process, students were going to continue to slip through the cracks without getting the help they needed…

We worked with Dr. Mariam Azin and PRES Associates to develop a software-based system to manage and coordinate our resources and services while streamlining the identification, referral, and progress monitoring process. Because PRES Associates worked with similar types of projects across the country, they saw the same themes, needs, and barriers emerge regardless of size or location, and quickly grasped the direction we wanted to go. The system we worked on eventually evolved into Mazin EnCompass, an early identification, referral, and progress monitoring program that helps districts make sure that students who struggle for any reason are connecting to and benefiting from the services and programs that can help.”

Read the full article at eSchool News.

Education Week: Schools Must Do More to Prevent Suicide, Bullying
Education Week Commentary

By Dr. Mariam Azin

“Teachers and other staff members know much more about what is happening with kids than those school employees ever report. We know which kids are showing up hung over, which kids hide in the library to avoid the lunchroom, which kids are suddenly ostracized from a group they were once part of. We observe kids together at school in ways that parents never can, and often have them in our care for more of their waking hours than their families do. We can say it’s not our job, or not our business. But schools have a responsibility not only to help students learn, but also to keep them safe, physically and emotionally, while they are in our care…There are things that we can do. We can end the culture of silence and encourage all school staff members to speak up when they notice something happening with a child. We can train them better in what to look for, whom they should talk to if they see a problem, and what resources are available for students at risk for bullying (as victims or perpetrators), violence, or suicide. And we can make sure we have systems in place to make identification, referral, and monitoring of students in crisis easy and automatic so no child slips through the cracks.”

Read the full article at Education Week.

Locks Are Not the Answer; Early Identification of Mental Illness is Key

By Dr. Mariam Azin

A Connecticut panel on school safety has recommended stronger locks as a deterrent to future Newtown-style massacres. Other schools across the country are investing in bulletproof windows, metal detectors and other security devices. These security precautions are sadly necessary for today’s schools, and I applaud every effort our schools make to keep our students safe. But is security enough? A better question: how can we predict and prevent active shooter events before a troubled young person picks up a gun?

The sad reality is, most cases of in-school violence are committed by young people who are supposed to be in the building. Cases of outside, armed intruders are extremely rare. Students who are intent on hurting their fellow students are very good at figuring out how to circumvent metal detectors and other precautions. Locked, bulletproof classroom doors and clear security protocols can be lifesaving in an active shooter situation, and I fully support their use. But the bigger problem is that we as a society have done a terrible job of identifying young people with mental illnesses that make them dangerous to themselves and others, and getting them the help they need before they consider violence.

Mental health experts estimate that one in ten teens has a mental health issue, and as many as 80 percent of them may be undiagnosed. When we look at well-publicized cases of school violence, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, in every case former teachers, staff members and peers have been able to point to signs that the perpetrators were struggling with mental health problems—often years in advance of the incident.

Students who are in a mental health crisis are a disruption to the learning process in the best case, and a danger to themselves, their peers and school staff in the worst case. To prevent emerging mental illnesses from manifesting in dangerous ways, we need to identify students who are showing early signs of risk, and make sure that students in need of mental health services actually receive and benefit from them. Formal identification and referral programs won’t take the place of effective security precautions. But they are a proactive, positive complement to reactive security measures. Effective, early mental health treatment is a long-term solution with the potential to save not only future victims but also to save perpetrators from themselves.

Why should schools be asked to take on identification and referral? Because that’s where the students are. Our high schools and colleges are the front lines, and the last place where we will have young people all gathered together. Mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder often manifest between the ages of 14 and 24. It is no accident that many of the most publicized mass shootings have been carried out by young people (often men) in their teens or twenties. We cannot count on every family being able to recognize potential problems and self-refer. But we can train our teachers, school counselors and administrators to do a better job of recognizing emerging issues, and give them the tools and resources they need for appropriate identification, referral and management of school- and community-based resources.

We can—and should—talk about appropriate security precautions. But this addresses only one piece of the problem. If we could make our schools perfectly secure, a troubled student intent on homicide would then take his weapon to the theater, the mall or the public park. We need to figure out how to prevent these kinds of attacks from happening at all, without turning ourselves into a police state.

We’ll never know how events might have unfolded in Newtown if Adam Lanza and his family had gotten effective help when he first started showing signs of risk. And of course, even with early identification, we cannot guarantee that families will accept services or that treatments will be successful. But there is no excuse not to try. Along with locks and bulletproof glass, we must arm our educators with information so they can get troubled young people the help they truly need.

Can the U.S. Meet Its 2014 Goal for Students?
Education Researcher Says Boosting Graduation Rates is Possible with Existing Tools

We’re fast approaching 2014, the year federal law calls for all students to be 100 percent proficient in reading and math.

Are we there yet?

“No, but to be fair, that goal was unattainable,” says Dr. Mariam Azin, president of Mazin Education, (www.mazineducation.com), which develops software solutions to help schools better assess, identify and serve at-risk students.

“What concerns me more is that the No Child Left Behind Act is also intended to dramatically reduce dropout rates. That’s very attainable, and yet we still have one in five students failing to graduate from high school!”

A core tenet of the 2001 federal law is 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math by next year. It also requires all secondary schools to show yearly progress on the number of freshmen who graduate with diplomas after four years.

However, two years ago, states were offered waivers on meeting some of the law’s requirements if they implemented certain policies, such as linking teacher evaluations to students’ test scores. As of April, 34 states and the District of Columbia had been granted waivers and 10 more applications were pending.

“Most of the states with waivers are now circumventing the accountability rules intended to increase the graduation rate, which is now 78 percent nationally,” says Azin, citing an Alliance for Excellent Education report released in February. “That sounds good until you realize 22 out of every 100 students – the dropouts – are more likely to earn less money, be less healthy, and spend time in jail. Five states have dropout rates of more than 40 percent!”

Azin, who holds a doctorate in applied social psychology and has more than 20 years’ experience in educational research and evaluation, says there are clear indicators that a student is at risk for dropping out.

“By monitoring each student’s risk factors and intervening early, we can keep more kids in school,” she says. “And that doesn’t have to be a labor-intensive exercise – we have computers!”

Some risk factors can be monitored just by collating the student information already recorded, she notes.

While research has identified many potential predictors, these have proven consistently reliable, Azin says.

  • Attendance: Being absent 10 percent of school days (first 30 days per grading period annually).
  • Behavior: One or more major behavior incidents per grading period1.
  • Course performance:  An inability to read at grade level by the end of third grade; failure In courses (e.g., including core subject areas such as English or math) in sixth through 12th grades; a GPA of less than 2.0; and failure to earn enough credits for promotion to the next grade.

“Once a student has been identified, it is critical that he or she be connected with someone who’s able to further evaluate him or provide services,” Azin says. “Unfortunately, research shows that this often fails to happen.”

That’s why it’s essential to have a system in place that monitors when and how students connect with services, and the progress they’re making, Azin says.

“Again, this can be automated, with alerts going to the appropriate interventionist when necessary,” she says.

Boosting high school graduation rates to near 100 percent is both essential and attainable with the information now available, Azin says.

“No child should be left behind, and it’s within our means to identify students at risk of dropping out and take steps to prevent that.”

About Dr. Mariam Azin

Dr. Mariam Azin is president and CEO of Mazin Education, an educational company focused on software solutions that help schools to better assess, identify and serve at-risk students. Dr. Azin holds a doctorate in applied social psychology and has more than 20 years’ experience in educational research and evaluation. She has been the principal investigator on numerous large-scale evaluation efforts related to students, currently serving as joint principal investigator on three federal Safe Schools/Healthy Students evaluations.

Let’s Arm Educators-With Information
Systematic Identification of At-Risk Students is Key

By Dr. Mariam Azin

Can guns in the classroom prevent the next school shooting tragedy? The National Rifle Association has proposed arming teachers as a deterrent to the next Adam Lanza or T.J. Lane. While school districts will need to find the security solutions that they and their communities are comfortable with, I’d like to see our teachers, principals and staff armed with something potentially more powerful — the tools and information to identify students who are headed for a mental health crisis.

Every time a troubled young person commits a horrific act of violence, we try to understand what went wrong. The media is still looking into Adam Lanza’s upbringing, mental health status, and school records for clues to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy. We’ve done the same for James Holmes, Jared Lee Laughner, TJ Lane. In every case, we find that there were warning signs, usually years in advance. One thing we know: a mentally healthy, socially secure and well-balanced teen doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide to kill a dozen people. Teachers, neighbors, peers and relatives always are able to look backwards and identify things that just “weren’t quite right.”
Mental health experts estimate that one in 10 teens has a mental health issue, and as many as 80 percent of them may be undiagnosed. Mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder often manifest between the ages of 14 and 24. It is no accident that many of the most publicized mass shootings have been carried out by young people (often men) in their teens or twenties.

What role can schools play in ensuring that teens who need mental health services are identified, referred and receive services? We may want to exempt schools from this responsibility and insist that they focus only on academics. But the reality is, they cannot focus on academics unless they have first established a safe environment for learning. Students who are in a mental health crisis are a disruption to the learning process in the best case, and a danger to themselves, their peers and school staff in the worst case.
We can—and should—talk about appropriate security precautions. But this addresses only one piece of the problem. If we could make our schools perfectly secure, a troubled student intent on homicide would then take his weapon to the theater, the mall or the public park. We need to figure out how to prevent these kinds of attacks from happening at all, without turning ourselves into a police state.

The way to do this is to focus on early identification of students who are showing signs of risk, and establishing a strong referral and monitoring program to make sure that students in need of mental health services actually receive and benefit from them. It’s not enough to simply log an incident report and walk away. We need to ask what kind of services does the student need? The family? And make sure they have access to appropriate resources. And then we need to follow up, to make sure that the connection was made and interventions are working. If they’re not, we need to try something else.

Why should schools be involved in the identification and referral process? Because that’s where the students are. Our high schools and colleges are the front lines, and the last place where we will have young people all gathered together. We cannot count on every family being able to recognize potential problems and self-refer. But we can train our teachers, school counselors and administrators to do a better job of recognizing emerging issues, and give them the tools and resources they need for appropriate identification, referral and management of school- and community-based resources.

http://www.thenewsgramonline.net/index.php/familia/item/1335-let%E2%80%99s-arm-educators-%E2%80%94-with-information-systematic-identification-of-at-risk-students-is-key

http://www.rcreader.com/news-releases/lets-arm-educators–with-information/

http://www.gpb.org/blogs/passion-for-learning/2013/04/12/let%E2%80%99s-arm-educators-with-information

http://www.wilsoncountynews.com/article.php?id=50362&n=commentaries-lets-arm-educators-information

http://www.mercurynews.com/cupertino/ci_23008474/commentary-lets-arm-educators-information-not-guns?source=rss

http://moms.fortwayne.com/?q=article/let%E2%80%99s-arm-educators-%E2%80%94-information

Dr. Mariam Azin on the Mountain Morning Show
Watch Dr. Mariam Azin on the Mountain Morning Show! Dr. Azin was invited to Park City on March 29 to discuss what districts can do to prevent schools violence. Watch to find out how early identification and referral can help schools reduce the risk of school violence, address bullying, and make sure students with mental health issues get the help they need before a crisis occurs.

Prevent Future Shootings; Identify Troubled Students, Doctor Says
Educational Psychologist Offers Tips to Help Schools Help Kids

In a recent interview marking the anniversary of a school shooting that killed two students and wounded 13, the then-teenaged gunman shares the warning signs he displayed before his tragic meltdown.

“My dad noticed my grades slipping … I would come home with bruises and lie to him,” says Charles “Andy” Williams, now 27, in the Oprah Winfrey Network interview.

“I didn’t know how to communicate that somethin’ really, really bad was goin’ on. I didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Take Andy’s story, says educational research specialist Dr. Mariam Azin, and multiply it by hundreds of thousands of students across the country. Among them are the next Adam Lanza, James Holmes, or Andy Williams – people who have become so emotionally disturbed, they turn to killing strangers.

“It’s the quiet kids who slip through the cracks and don’t get the help they need,” says the founder and CEO of Mazin Education (www.mazineducation.com), a social psychologist who has spent decades conducting research in educational settings and on at-risk students.

One high school for which she gathered data found that 750 of its 2,500 students reported having a substance abuse issue. But, in the year she studied, only 10 students were referred for substance abuse intervention, and just five of them connected with a program. Three completed it.

“The loud and disruptive kids who are having problems get the attention they need; the quiet ones don’t,” Mazin says. “If we can identify them – and we can! — and intervene, we can help prevent future violence and suicides.”

She says schools can take some simple but effective steps right now to begin identifying troubled students.

1. Make it everybody’s job. From the lunch lady to the custodian to the bus driver to the teacher, many adults notice small signs, like Andy Williams’ declining grades and his bruises. If everyone reported the small signs they saw, the cumulative effect could be one big indicator of a problem. “The cafeteria worker may notice he’s not eating,” Azin says. “The custodian may see him being bullied. One sign here or there gets overlooked, but if everyone knows that, if they see something that concerns them, they document it, then we’ll be able to connect those dots and make sure more kids get the help they need.” School leadership should make it everyone’s job to report.

2. Provide a safe way to report. Some people say nothing because they’re afraid they’ll be expected to make a decision about what the behavior means or they’ll have to do something about it. Some fear reporting will make them legally accountable. “Everyone involved with students needs to understand they are expected only to report what they see — changes in behavior, incidents that may cause emotional distress,” Azin says. “A single, isolated incident will not necessarily result in action being taken.” Schools also need to embed an infrastructure through which concerns can be documented securely as soon as an incident takes place.

3. Identify community services that can help. Schools may be reluctant to identify troubled students because they don’t have the resources to provide them with help. “Identify and develop relationships with programs and resources in the community to which students can also be referred,” Azin says. “While schools are the place where many troubled students can be identified, it does not necessarily follow that it is solely the school’s responsibility to provide all of the necessary services to those students and their families. It takes a village to help provide services to at-risk youth and their families and to help prevent school violence. But if we can’t document and clearly identify the need, it’s impossible to get these resources in place.

4. Embed a system for follow-up and monitoring. Once students who are showing signs of academic, behavioral, or emotional risk are identified and referred to appropriate services, a system for follow-up and monitoring needs to be embedded to ensure that they actually connect with appropriate mental and physical health services, academic intervention or other family services. Ideally, subsequent monitoring of progress will occur to see if the identified services and interventions are appropriate and producing the intended effects and to make necessary adjustments. “Oftentimes, the way it is now is that schools will make a referral but then it just goes into a black hole – nobody knows what happens afterwards,” says Azin.

After a tragedy, Azin says, those who knew the perpetrator recall the signs they witnessed: not speaking to classmates, drug use, bullying.

“People see the signs,” she says. “Shouldn’t we create a way for them to document that information and get these kids help before something terrible happens?”