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Cocke Co. Schools to start behavioral health screening

The universal screenings are part of the Tennessee AWARE grant program.

NEWPORT, Tenn. — School leaders in Cocke County are putting a focus on the behavioral health of their students.

"We're not just looking at academics," Kim Guinn, director of Cocke County's  Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education (AWARE) program. "We're looking at what we can do to help and support some of our students who are having some issues in school."

The Tennessee AWARE program is currently in four school districts: Cocke, Lake, Hickman and Fayette. It's funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to "increase youth access to mental health services by raising mental health awareness."

In the next two months, Cocke County middle school teachers will use part of a class period to rate how frequently each student exhibits certain "risk" behaviors.

"They're looking for students who may be shy or withdrawn, that aren’t really socially acting with other peers," Guinn said. "Students who may be caught stealing or being aggressive."

Credit: Kim Guinn
This is the Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS) used in Cocke County.

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For students who have parental consent, the teacher will rate how frequently they have observed twelve behaviors from 0 to 3.

If the student receives nine or more points, they might be referred to as a guidance counselor.

"The school counselor, after that, can determine if it's something that we really need to reach out to professionals on and offer school-based therapy or community resources for that child," Guinn said.

Guinn said suicide has become the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 19 in the state of Tennessee. Cocke County Schools is hoping to prevent that trend from continuing, as well as improve academic performance.

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"We are concerned with suicide deaths by students, and that has really increased over the last few years," Guinn said. "We can provide some resources and programs or whatever interventions it may be to help those children because ultimately it will impact their academic performance."

Nathan Bugg, the Response to Instruction and Intervention-Behavior coordinator for Cocke County, said this screening could help students succeed later in life too.

"They can have help to overcome those [behaviors] and to develop those coping mechanisms and have a better health overall in the classroom and in life," Bugg said. "There are gaps and we need to fulfill those."

Tennessee AWARE is currently in the pilot phase.