Guam DOE focuses on student mental health | New

Guam Department of Education school administrators and staff interact during a social communication exercise, led by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Joe Sanchez, conducted as part of the courses offered at the agency’s School Safety Conference held at Tiyan High School in Barrigada on June 30, 2022.

The Guam Department of Education will continue to address student mental health issues, combining new methods with those already in place for the upcoming school year.

“We, as a school-based behavioral health program, are really looking at how to reach students with limited specialist people,” said Nadine Cepeda, the department’s chief school psychologist.

When students returned to face-to-face instruction in November 2021, abrupt changes in different modes of learning led to learning loss, and the lack of face-to-face interaction took a toll on students’ mental health. students, according to the PDN files.

Before the end of the school year, the number of psychological health assessments increased significantly compared to previous years according to Cepeda.

Increase in ratings

At one of her assigned schools, John F. Kennedy High, Cepeda said she had to do 14 student assessments in the month of May alone — an average typically received in a school year. Cepeda is assigned to more than one school.

“I’m sure there are more students who face challenges and difficulties when they return to school and who may not even return to school,” Cepeda said. “Their grades go down, they say they are anxious, they don’t want to come or they refuse to come back to school. This is what I assess to see if there is a deficiency, but the numbers have surely increased. I could see this in regards to the reference count.


This year, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Tom Babauta said the department is trying to focus on understanding what triggers students, what mitigates the effects, and how to best ensure they are able detect the signs and intervene as soon as possible.

Much of their work and training, including a three-day event held in June, focused on social and emotional well-being, student reintegration, crisis intervention, de-escalation and understanding of behaviors of concern.

“We try to expose as many people as possible to the information, the more people who are aware of the behaviors of concern and the different indicators, the more people we can have to activate a response,” Babauta said.

Open dialog

Additionally, Babauta emphasized the importance of open dialogue to properly address students with possible signs.

“If you know your students and you know them well, and you see someone who maybe isn’t in the right frame of mind or is coming in regularly, maybe either posting something on the social media or making certain comments,” Babauta said. “(Teachers and staff) want to reach out and see if we can step in. These are the situations that, if left unaddressed, no matter how small, can end up impacting many more later on. »

According to Cepeda, although there is a public law with strict and strict guidelines that they must meet within 45 days, it is still important for students to be screened to identify the level of services a student may need. .

LGBTQ, students with special needs

The lack of in-person social and educational support may also have had an even greater impact on groups like special education students, students experiencing abuse or neglect at home, and LGBTQ students.

According to Cepeda, research and data points indicate that youth who identify as part of the LGBTQ community are at greater risk for substance use and suicide.

The partners

In addition to partnerships with the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, the Department of Education also provides services made possible through a grant with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and Mañe’lu.

Thanks to a grant, GALA Executive Director Dr. Tim Dela Cruz was able to implement a storytelling empowerment program in select schools.

According to former superintendent Jon Fernandez, the pandemic has helped students take an active role in addressing behavioral health issues, which has increased the demand for mental health awareness and training.

“I’m really happy to hear students say they want more talk about (mental health) because what worries me is the way we are – the status quo is really, we don’t talk no such issues at home and in the community,” Fernandez said.

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