Pullman School District addresses mental health

An Outdoor Learning Lab to improve mental health among students



The Outdoor Learning Lab, an experimental classroom designed to give students more outdoor exposure, is being prepared at Jefferson Elementary School for the upcoming school year.

JAKOB THORINGTON, Evergreen reporter

A classroom space designed to give elementary students more outdoor exposure will be completed for the upcoming school year at Jefferson Elementary.

The fundraising chair for the project said one of its benefits it will help improve the mental health of students following a Pullman High School student’s suicide this month.

The space, called the Outdoor Learning Lab, has been the major fundraising project for Meg Gollnick, fundraising chair at Jefferson Elementary.

Gollnick said the OLL was partly fundraised to improve the mental health among students and that even at the elementary level, anxiety levels across Pullman schools are astronomically high.

“There is a crisis at our schools with mental health,” Gollnick said.

She said mental health among students throughout the district has become one of her primary concerns. Last May, she said she spoke out at a Pullman School District board meeting and urged the board to address needs concerning students’ mental health.

“You know how school board meetings are,” she said. “They never really respond.”

Nearly one year later, a student at Pullman High School took his own life.

Members of the Pullman community rallied for PHS students in support of mental awareness on June 13. Community members brought snacks, beverages and over 1,000 notecards with hand-written supportive messages to greet students that morning.

Gollnick said the Pullman community has been incredible in its effort to support mental health among students. She said she was displeased with the lack of urgency the school district has shown in that regard.

“I don’t understand why there is a disconnect with the school district [and students’ mental health],” she said. “It seems like they’re always two steps behind.”

Shannon Focht, the communications coordinator at Pullman Public Schools, said that the district is taking significant steps in addressing students’ mental health.

The Pullman school district employs at least one counselor at each school. These counselors specialize in academic, career and social-emotional development, according to the district’s website.

The district is also partnered with Palouse River Counseling, Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience at WSU, and Behind Happy Faces at WSU Athletics.

In addition, the district is moving to adopt a social-emotional curriculum called “Second Step” next year for grades K-12, according to its website.

Gollnick said these steps do not go far enough.

“We need screenings, interventions and a full-time therapist for the schools,” she said.

Focht said the schools do have screenings and interventions and are considering hiring a full-time mental therapist for the upcoming school year.

Focht said it’s a challenge for all school districts to identify when students need support, but the district is applying professional development for its teachers and staff to recognize these instances.

In the past two years, teachers and staff at PSD were trained to support students with mental and physical health struggles through courses and presentations according to its website.

Gollnick said the school district is not serious enough about taking certain steps to address mental health.

“We need to help solve problems, not just talk about them,” Gollnick said.

Gollnick was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2015. She said she had to retire but has spent every day in schools around Pullman as a result of the diagnosis.

“I love children,” she said. “They are the future and we have to invest in them.”