Booker T. Washington teachers hold meetings to discuss student behavior

TULSA -- Teachers at Booker T. Washington meet once a week to discuss any changes they might notice in their students' behavior.

The high school launched "safe teams" in the early 2000s after numerous Green Country teens died by suicide in a short period of time.

Chief Empowerment Officer for the Mental Health Association, Mike Brose, played a key role.

"The number one training request is how does a school respond after something bad happens," Brose said. "We are happy to provide that training. The safe team is about not having to use that if we can possibly do that."

The teachers at Booker T. meet for thirty minutes weekly. There is not an agenda for the meeting and attendance is not required. It is a time to bring up concerns they have about their students.

"They may say, 'Does anybody have David in your classes?' 'Well here is what I have been noticing. He seems to be a little down lately. Has anybody else seen that? What is that about? Does anyone have any information or know what is going on?'" Brose gave as an example.

Science teacher Susan Hofstetter has been part of safe teams at Booker T since they launched almost two decades ago.

"It is very difficult to educate them when maybe their emotions are running high or they are not fed or they are not thinking ahead," Hofstetter said. "They just are impulsive and it gets them in trouble."

The school's counselors are in on the meetings. If the teachers point out a problem, the counselors will either help the students themselves or refer them to the on-site therapist.

"It is a good way for me to understand specifically I need to call in who are struggling with their own issues," Angela Jones, a ninth-grade counselor, said.

Counselor Mary Beth Lykins worked at other schools before joining the Booker T. team. She said she used to look for students who were regularly missing school or those who came to her office for snacks because they did not have food at home. She said without safe teams others who were struggling slipped through the cracks.

"It didn't always include the students who're moving for the third time this year because of a family situation or the student whose parent doesn't have a job now or who has a sick child at home and is needing to stay home to provide child care," Lykins said. "Those types of issues didn't always get my attention."

For the 2016-17 school year, Booker T reported they discussed 324 issues in their meetings and referred 23 students to counseling mainly for mental health.

"I don't get why it's really not in as many schools," Lykins said. "I think it is an easy model to implement. You don't have to have everybody present to make it effective."

Booker T likes the program so much that they are starting a student safe team. They said students are very in tune with what is going on with their classmates.

"We want it to be represented equally and to bring those issues that might affect one population over another," Lykins said.

The Mental Health Association said they are currently only working with Booker T. and the Owasso Ram Academy to facilitate safe teams.

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