LUMBERTON, N.C. (WBTW) — The Public Schools of Robeson County (PSRC) is trying a special approach to help kids with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics have warned about how the pandemic has hurt children’s mental health. Both groups say it’s partially due to disrupted schedules or just not seeing friends.

A Robeson County educator is getting teachers and school staff to learn how to spot when a student needs some help.

“There’s a lot of things related to trauma in our county and being that COVID has transpired, I feel like that’s just heightened,” said Megan Collins, who’s the counseling coordinator for PSRC.

Collins says she made the switch from teaching to school counseling three years ago to help children with their mental health, which is a issue that has grown as classes went virtual due to COVID-19.

“Whether you see it on their face through the screen or it’s some nonverbal cues,” Collins said. “Maybe they’re not participating, they’re not logging in, they’re not their usual self.”

That’s why Collins helped PSRC adopt a program back in may called Kognito. It uses interactive scenarios to show school staff how to communicate and empathize with students.

Kognito also teaches how to look for signs of anxiety and depression.

“By them having those skills, they can better serve that child,” said Collins. “They can be aware of those signs.”

Collins says staff members have done simulations about 8,000 times since November. The educators required to use Kognito include assistant principals, teachers, peer mediators, youth development specialists, behavioral specialists, school psychologists, social workers, counselors and instructional support.

Here’s a list of the types of required simulations offered by Kognito for PSRC:

  • at-risk students (separate sections for early learning, elementary, middle and high school students)
  • trauma-informed practices
  • “Resilient Together”
  • “Building Respect”

There are also two optional simulators called “Step In, Speak Up” and “Supporting Military Children.” The program also helps PSRC follow with a new state law requiring districts to implement a mental health plan. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law last June.

Collins says Kognito’s training will help students across a large district with communities of all types.

“It’s given us the tools necessary to be able to approach that child, regardless of where it is that they’re coming from,” she said.

Collins also says students will soon start using Kognito’s simulations called “Friend 2 Friend” and “Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.” Students will also use a substance abuse prevention simulation later this spring and a violence prevention one in the fall.

You can click here to find PSRC’s resources page, which includes mental health resources. The district even has a “virtual calming room” for students and families to find resources for managing emotions and feelings.

PSRC returns to a hybrid model with some in-person classes on Mar 1.