Tooele, UT: A District and Community Respond to Trauma
“We are so excited with the data that we’re seeing—the positive behaviors that result from what we’re implementing with the Second Step program along with the other programs we’ve put in place.”
Marianne Oborn, Counseling and Social Services Director
After experiencing a traumatic series of suicides and deaths in 2015, the Tooele County School District took action to support not only its students, but the whole community in a move toward healthier behavioral norms and a more positive cultural and school climate. The results: two years after instituting multiple supports including Second Step Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) as its universal social-emotional learning curriculum, a 2017 SHARP survey revealed a decrease in suicidality and substance abuse—even while every other county in the state experienced an increase.
“I believe, as an educator and a psychologist, that the climate and the mental health of students is just as important as their academic health.”
Dr. Scott Rogers
Tooele County School District
Mental Health Specialists
“Second Step is really a foundational prevention piece in our community, in our schools, to make sure that our students learn social-emotional learning skills for not only the grade level that they’re in, but also to carry them throughout their lives.”
Tooele County School District
“Behavioral improvement definitely has an effect on academic success. Because if students are able to work through the behavior problems, than they are focused more on their education and their learning.”
Copper Canyon Elementary School
Case Study in School District-Led Suicide Prevention
Case Study: Tooele County School District
The Tooele County School District (TCSD) is in a rural county 35 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah. It consists of 16 elementary schools and 5 junior high schools. TCSD serves a diverse population of approximately 14,000 students in kindergarten through grade 8. It encompasses a military base and tribal lands, and covers 7,286 square miles.
The county has experienced significant growth in the past 15 years, becoming a bedroom community to the Salt Lake Valley. This growth highlighted a need for elementary school counselors and greater social, emotional, and behavioral support for all students. In 2013, the district applied for and received an Elementary and Secondary School Counseling federal grant, funding counselors and enabling the purchase of Second Step SEL for implementation in seven of the district’s elementary schools.
During the first year of implementation, the district experienced multiple crises—each school experienced trauma that spread throughout the community. It was critical to provide education and training to ensure that students and staff were equipped to deal with the grief and loss. The district applied for and received a 5-year School Climate Transformation Grant, focusing on Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) in every school and teaching Second Step SEL in every K–8 classroom.
Recognizing that emotional well-being is closely tied to academics, Tooele administrators felt that social-emotional learning would be the key to increasing positive behavior and supporting mental wellness. They looked for a widely used and evidence-based curriculum that would promote these improvements and provide the foundation for a safe, respectful learning environment. Second Step has become a crucial piece of the district’s larger PBIS effort.
The Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Survey is a collaborative multi-agency project designed to gather and report data at all levels to help schools put health and risk prevention programs and strategies in place. The 2017 Survey was distributed to 39 school districts and 17 charter schools across Utah. It was administrated to 5,335 students in Grades 6–12 throughout Tooele County School District. Highlights of the report are:
- A decrease in all grades for marijuana, alcohol, and cigarette use
- A decrease in suicide and depression indicators
- A decrease in gang involvement and school bullying
- An increase in prosocial involvement
See the full report: Tooele School District Profile Report (PDF)
Easy to use with relevant content, Second Step was swiftly implemented in every K–8 classroom. All teachers are now on board and enthusiastic about Second Step SEL, even those who were initially resistant. Teachers take time to teach all of the lessons.
The district conducts regular program integrity measures, including coaching and teacher observation. TCSD has seen great progress in SEL, positive school climate, and staff readiness. Teachers proactively identify triggers that could negatively affect their students, intervening and redirecting earlier than before.
Tooele City’s Communities That Care and the Tooele City Police Department assist with program integrity reviews and with certain lessons. All prevention agencies use a common language to reinforce Second Step, strengthening its positive influence in the lives of students.
Building a positive school culture has become the key priority for this large community. Second Step has introduced and reinforced SEL as a crucial piece in helping every student thrive academically, socially, and emotionally.