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Mason City Schools Is Using Technology To Monitor Students’ Mental Health

Alisa Roth, WVXU |

Mason started using technology to track students’ online activity years ago. Mostly to make sure they weren’t looking at inappropriate content. Or talking about violence. But now the schools are monitoring students to try to figure out who might be heading for a mental health crisis.

“It gives us insight into what the student’s thinking that we otherwise would not see or hear,” says Nicole Pfirman, mental wellness coordinator for schools in Mason.

Mason uses a company called Securly to track its students. Machine learning lets the company flag words that suggest a student is thinking about hurting him or herself, or otherwise in trouble, and then notifies the school district so it can intervene. “It’s not a magic wand, it’s not going to prevent everything in a school, but it’s going to give schools a lot more information than they ever had before and it’s gonna be good information that they can go and have a conversation with a student about,” says Mike Jolley, who is in charge of K-12 safety at Securly.

Mason partners with therapists from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. And over the last year, Pfirman and her team have ended up connecting a lot more students to that program. Meanwhile, the technology companies continue to position themselves on the front lines of student mental health. The latest example? This fall, Gaggle announced a new product line. It will now contract with school districts to connect them with therapists for students who need mental health care.

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