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Easing the Mental Transition from 8th Grade to High School for the Freshman Class

September 30, 2020
By Mr. Greg Derus, Assistant Principal
Mental Health for the Freshman Class at Carroll High School

In our September blog regarding the Health and Wellness initiatives, I detailed Carroll’s commitment to expanding our prevention and safety programs, including a screening of all freshmen called SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral Services). As I mentioned, “SBIRT has been used with tremendous success during the protocols for those students that entered our positive testing matrix. I found the screening provided a valuable tool for identifying students needing assistance with major anxiety and mental health struggles. Often, these issues related to mental health have direct correlation to possible addictive tendencies and drug use.  I believe the earlier we can provide possible intervention and identify triggers with our student body, we can be proactive in preventing possible drug and alcohol use.”  

The Montgomery County Educational Service Center prevention educators met with me and our counselors to review the results of the screenings. These results have provided necessary indicators for directing future educational programming as well as expanding and continuing to support current initiatives. One anecdotal piece of information reported by a vast number of students was the value of our Study Skills curriculum instituted by Mr. Chris Ochs.  Most freshmen are in a study hall where Mr. Ochs conducts a specific curriculum in order to aid students in the transition to high school.  The number one issue found in the screenings was anxiety and stress related to school work.  Our prevention educators found that most of our students mentioned the transition from 8th grade to high school, or it was found that they have need for assistance with the added responsibilities of life as a high school student.  Time management, homework loads, balancing after school activities, and general expectations created stressors in their life. If not addressed, these stressors have the potential to lead to further mental health related problems and possible addictive behaviors/negative coping skills. The majority of our students are handling these stressors well and taking advantage of the assistance from the Study Skills class.  However, there are a few students that need additional support in coping with these stressors. Other topics found needing coping skills and assistance were general depression, body image issues, and bullying. 

Students found needing further assistance were offered “brief intervention”, a voluntary series of follow-up meetings with the prevention educators to check in and provide additional support and coping skills.  These “briefs” are not formal counseling or professional therapy sessions. The prevention educators provide fact based research materials and strategies in dealing with stressors.  Students taking advantage of the brief intervention will meet with prevention educators through October on campus during school hours.  Those students needing more in depth support were referred to counselors for professional therapy through the school.  Students requiring professional assistance will continue to work with our counselors on finding the appropriate resources.  19% of our freshmen class will participate in these “briefs”, and 3% of the class has been referred out for professional assistance.  The majority of those referrals were for dual depression/anxiety related issues.  

If any parent would like to discuss these findings in more depth, or want further information on the SBIRT program, please reach out to me at  

Posted in Voices of Learning