In 2016, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister created the Student Advisory Council, which brings together high school juniors and seniors from across the state to discuss concerns, brainstorm solutions and affect state-level initiatives in Oklahoma’s public education system.
Due to the pandemic, the 2021 council met virtually, and one of the primary topics of discussion was improving mental health resources.
Kadyn Casteel, a senior, drum major and concert clarinetist for Stillwater High School, says as students and teachers are trying to acclimate to the “new normal,” more and more students are being candid about their struggles with mental health. She reports that students and staff are more empathetic to one another’s struggles. She’s hopeful that a statewide program offering grants to Oklahoma school districts to hire counselors and school-based mental health professionals will become permanent.
Oklahoma School Counselor Corps was created by the OSDE in 2021 using $35.7 million in federal relief funding and awarding grants to 181 school districts. Oklahoma’s current student-to-school counselor ratio is 411:1, but the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250:1, according to the OSDE.
“Greater access to mental health professionals will benefit everyone, yet the funding is only guaranteed through the spring of 2024,” said Casteel. “For the OSCC to make genuine progress, it is essential that these professionals remain in the schools far longer. I am hopeful that [Supt.] Joy Hofmeister and the OSDE recognize this and commit to funding this program permanently. I look forward to seeing the further development of that relationship in all Oklahoma schools, for the 2022 school year and beyond.”
Elizabeth Crawford, vice president of student council and choir and theater member at Latta High School, says the lack of education surrounding mental health needs to be addressed, along with providing students the tools they need to maintain their mental health. She’s advocated in her school for peer support.
“Especially now, coming out of a time of isolation and uncertainty, students need the tools to help them understand themselves and to help them navigate this lingering sense of ambiguity,” said Crawford. “I believe the best solution is to provide students with the necessary information to become autonomous in maintaining their mental health. Only when we are able to support each other will we succeed in improving the state of our mental health, or, at the very least, be able to start an open and honest conversation about mental health among students and faculty.”
Listen to a MetroFamily podcast with additional Student Advisory Council members on creative solutions to address mental health, education equity and resources and funding for public schools and teachers at metrofamilymagazine.com/