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Please join me in voting 'YES' on the LO Learning Levy on May 21 so that all LOSD students have essential supports

This year, I witnessed through my 6th grader's eyes the joys and challenges of middle school, as a public health professional, social worker and parent. Our tweens and teens are navigating new terrain. Their bodies are changing, minds continuing to mature, relationships becoming more complex and social media use increasing. They face intensified academic and peer pressure to succeed and be accepted. They are experimenting with freedom while still developing important life skills such as self-awareness, impulse control, empathy, teamwork and responsible decision-making.

School counselors serve as the first line of defense in helping students understand and overcome these social-emotional issues, assisting as they become aware of their feelings, manage their behaviors and build positive, healthy relationships with adults and peers. Our current school counseling staff has a difficult job. At LOJHS and LJHS, only three counselors at each school cover the needs of the entire student body. At my daughter's elementary school, one counselor was often busy tending to the most emergent issues.

The LO Learning Levy will make a critical investment by funding seven additional school counselors to expand social-emotional learning and mental health support. Three school counselors will be placed at the secondary school level to help students during these tumultuous years.

Social-emotional learning creates healthy school environments and addresses numerous issues that students encounter. Middle and high school students may try risky behaviors, like Juul e-cigarettes. Nationally, an increase in violent threat incidents in schools occurred over one year, according to the Educator's School Safety Network. We have seen similar trends at our secondary schools. Instances of bullying, discrimination, and harassment have shaken our community recently, while the Clackamas County adolescent suicide rate has exceeded the national average for the past 30 years. We know that not only are our students are more anxious, they do not have the coping skills to manage the impact of stressful events. All of this negatively affects their emotional and physical well-being and in turn their school performance.

Four school counselors will be placed at the elementary school level to provide a solid foundation. They will increase support for young children in key areas such as demonstrating empathy for fellow students, creating strong relationships, making responsible decisions and working in teams. I recently served on LOSD's Elementary Facilities Task Force, which concluded last month. The Task Force was charged with addressing overcrowding at several elementary schools; examining facilities, programming and staffing; and developing recommendations through an equity lens. Over a five-month period, the Task Force reviewed previous reports, delved into to data and created recommendations for the school board to be considered later this month. More information about the Task Force meetings, the draft recommendations and next steps may be found at https://www.losdschools.org/Page/5800.

A study conducted by the RAND Corporation, a nationally recognized policy think tank, has demonstrated that having a strong foundation in social-emotional health is associated with more school involvement, higher graduation rates and improved workplace success. Ballots are available now! Please join me in voting 'YES' on the LO Learning Levy on May 21, so that all of the LOSD students may have these essential supports and more.

Neelam Gupta is the co-chair of the LO Learning Levy campaign.


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