Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser connected with Weiser at a recent Governor's Fellowship meeting in Denver. He expressed interest in the way Durango School District 9-R supports students' social-emotional skills, and Dr. Cheser invited him to visit Durango.
On May 17, Weiser met with staff at Needham Elementary School to learn more about a new survey on emotional health that was given to students in 3rd through 12th grades. The survey, designed by Social Skill Improvement System (SSIS) CoLab, was launched this year and will be given three times a year. It will help students and staff better understand how students are performing in areas like self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and self-awareness – skills that are directly related to being successful in school, work, and life.
Later in the day, Weiser met with staff, Board of Education members, and students at The Hub. This therapeutic school program provides wraparound services to students who were not succeeding in their home school. Students can access care from multiple community partners for mental health, specialized learning and experiential education opportunities while earning school credit. This was Weiser's second visit: His first visit to the Hub was in 2021.
Weiser said state leaders are "terrified" by the substance abuse challenges they are facing, particularly among young people. Weiser said Colorado has the highest vaping rate in the nation, and vowed that "we are now taking action" to give money to both schools and nonprofits to address the crisis. He also spoke about the dangers of influential social media platforms TikTok and Instagram.
"If you don't deal with mental health issues on the front end, you see it in the criminal justice system," he said. "Your program is a way to identify young people earlier who are dealing with trauma, and meet them in a place that is safe where they can develop relationships." Weiser referenced a famous TED Talk quote by Johann Hari, who said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is human connection.
Samantha Tower, a leader at The Hub and Principal of Big Picture High School, praised the multifaceted support for the Hub. "We're lucky enough to have support from our community partners and the Board of Education and district-level staff that has allowed us to get really creative in this program to serve kids." Tower said there is a goal to expand the program within the district at the middle school level next year.
During his visit to The Hub, Weiser said the No. 1 threat for young people is suicide. Dr. Cheser said the district's interconnecting programs and initiatives provide hope for students. There are also systems in place for students to anonymously report concerns.
"This school district has used the Safe to Tell partnership in exactly the way we want," said Weiser. "It's super powerful. I love that it aligns with your Portrait of a Graduate, which looks at what qualities you're trying to develop proactively, because there are so many challenges for young people's mental health."