Barrington SD220, mental health services app partner to help provide virtual access for K-12 students

PIONEER PRESS  |   MAY 30, 2020

Barrington School District 220  has partnered with META, a teletherapy app that allows students to access school counselors, psychologists and social workers from a cell phone or other electronic device.

Village resident Balaji Rajan is CEO of Ceannate Corp, the parent company of META,. He said the benefit of the app is that it allows students to seek mental health services in a way that’s more immediate.

“When you’re 14 years old, everything is impulsive. … When life is so dark sometimes and everything else, we all make decisions quickly,” Rajan said. “I think the ability to have something in your hand that says ‘OK, if you need to talk to somebody, talk to somebody,’ now makes a lot of sense, even if it’s just a chat.”

“META provides online therapy via mobile phone, tablet and desktop platforms,” according to the app website. “Using the free iPhone and Android app, students can sign up, search for and connect instantly with therapists for chat, video or phone therapy sessions — confidentially, anywhere.”

Rajan said the benefit of using the app is that there’s more privacy than having to go see a social worker in person. Students are therefore able to avoid the stigma that can sometimes come with seeking mental health counseling or services.

As part of the partnership, which began at the end of April, SD220 requested that students only be able to access district counselors and social workers. The app is free for students to use. Kids in sixth through 12th grade can just download the app, while ones in kindergarten to fifth grade must have their parents do the download, according to information on a SD220 Facebook post.

Students can have up to eight sessions before they have to get consent from their parents, said Beth Jones, assistant superintendent for student services.

Jones said that the app has been helpful in their transition to remote learning.

“Typically, if you’re a student walking through a hall and it’s in high school and you want to go talk to somebody, you could go to the guidance office or the student services and go talk to a social worker,” Jones said. “Well, we (don’t) have that opportunity at this point.”

Before the app, students still had access to psychologists, counselors and social workers, Jones said, but the app makes the process simpler and quicker. She also said that the platform will be helpful for students even when school reopens.

“We have to meet kids where they are,” Jones said. “The benefit is that kids are more apt to reach out if they can do it in a format that’s easy for them and comfortable for them. Even in a school setting, they might not be as comfortable walking down to an office, but they could text or get on this app and say ‘I would like to talk to somebody’ and then it becomes a much easier process for them.”

Jones said students will be able to use the app over the summer break, but there will be only eight to 10 workers available, as not everyone works during the summer. Representatives from the Barrington Youth and Family Services will also be available on the platform.

The app is free to the school district for the first three months. After that, schools can pay between $7,000 to $20,000 a year, Rajan said.

Jones said SD220 has not settled on an amount yet.

So far, Jones said META has been helpful to the school district and they’re happy to be able to provide this kind of assistance to students during the pandemic.

“It’s hard for adults to understand what’s going on. I can’t imagine being a young child, a middle schooler or a high schooler and trying to wrap my head around all of this,” Jones said. “And I think our kids have done an amazing job being resilient and trying to do the best they can. But they also need to know it’s OK to ask for help. And we’re here for that reason.”

Rajan said regardless of the pandemic, the app can help students struggling with mental health issues at any time.

“If META does a good job working with schools, and schools do a good job of working with platforms like META by encouraging students to say it’s OK to ask for help, we all win,” he said. “I don’t think it’s got anything to do with just COVID, but I think it’s something that we all need at all times.”

Marissa Plescia is a freelancer.
This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune