Cecilia, KENTUCKY – Student mental health reached crisis levels in the 2021-2022 school year. A recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 44% of high school students said they experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” during the pandemic, with girls and LGBTQ youth reporting the highest levels of poor mental health and suicide attempts.

Now, schools across the country are rolling out a variety of creative new coping tools, using federal pandemic money to hire more mental health specialists and expanding curriculum that prioritizes emotional health.

At Lakewood Elementary School, all 420 students start their days the same way this year. The rural Kentucky school is one of thousands across the country using the technology to screen students’ state of mind and alert teachers to anyone struggling.

“In the morning when our students get off the bus, they get their breakfast, and they do an emotional check in, that’s what we call it. So they just kind of tell us how they feel,” explained Shelly Kerr, Lakewood Elementary School Counselor.

Students do their check-in on their laptops. They hear … “It’s great to see you. How are you feeling?” from a cheery voice on their screen. It asks them to click an emoji matching their state of mind: Happy. Sad. Worried. Angry. Frustrated. Calm. Silly. Tired.

Depending on their answer, kids get advice on managing their mood with a few more questions: Have you eaten breakfast? Are you hurt or sick? Is everything OK at home? Is someone at school being unkind?

“It helps you explain how your feelings but only grown ups know it,” shared Leah, a 4th Grade Student. “So you put it in the Chromebook and the teachers if they know like you feel bad or something, they will come up to you and they will talk to you and it helps you process how you feel about other stuff.”