Megan Wykhuis, a state grant-funded social worker at Soroco High School in Oak Creek uses poetry and writing to help students learn to cope with past experiences. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Ann Schimke, Chalkbeat Colorado

It was 10:30 a.m. on a Monday in April. Nine counselors, psychologists, and therapists sat around a table in a conference room at Cañon City High School in southern Colorado.

In classrooms around the building, the school’s ninth-graders whizzed through an online mental health survey that would soon deliver real-time data to the group in the conference room. They were a triage team of sorts — particularly interested in the answers to question 24, which asked how often students had had thoughts of hurting themselves within the past week.

By 10:35 a.m., most of the results were in. Over the next few hours, team members pulled students who had responded “very often” “or often” out of class for private one-on-one conversations.

MORE: One school social worker quelled a girl’s suicidal thoughts. Colorado hopes a lot more of them can provide a lasting solution.

The overarching message to students, said Jamie Murray, a district psychologist who helped coordinate the effort, was “It’s OK to not be OK.”

While many Colorado school districts have beefed up mental health supports in recent years, Cañon City’s decision to administer a mental health screening to high school students is rare. Many district leaders are wary of soliciting such sensitive information, fearing they won’t have the tools to help students in crisis or that they’ll be liable if tragedy strikes and they weren’t able to intervene.


Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering schools and education. The news organization believes education is a local issue, and roots its coverage in local communities. Chalkbeat reports from and about eight locations: Colorado, Chicago,...