The Pella School Board held a work session on Monday to discuss disconcerting results of the Iowa Youth Survey and how to better help students and staff moving forward.

The survey was conducted in the fall of 2018 and asked sixth, eighth and 11th grade students questions about their perceptions of their peers, family, school, teachers and community environment. Director of K-12 Lowell Ernst stated the district received over 180 pages of results, and the results represented almost every student.

Ernst brought concerns to the school board’s attention regarding the number of students prescribed medication, having suicidal thoughts, the number of disruptions in the classroom and teachers not putting a stop to bullying.

Students were asked if they take medicine as prescribed to help with anxiety, anger, or sadness. Ernst was concerned about the 19 percent of 11th graders who currently are prescribed medication, which is 9 percent higher than the state average.

“Someone did point out to me that hey, at least these students are getting help, and we shouldn’t look at it as a negative,” said Ernst. “But it is still an alarming number.”

This question tied into an additional question that asked if students have seriously thought about killing themselves. 37 percent of 11th grade students said yes, which is 10 percent higher than the state average for that grade. Additionally, 20 percent of 11th graders said they have made a plan to kill themselves.

“When we start looking at this idea of focusing on social and emotional learning for our kids, that’s why we’re going there,” said Ernst. “Because that’s something we need to address. This is a teamwork thing, too. We can’t fix all of those things in school, but we can do things about it to help raise parent awareness.”

Ernst was also concerned about the number of students who stated a teacher had to stop teaching to deal with a student disruption or behavior problem. 63 percent of all grades surveyed said this had happened at least once in the past 30 days. This is a 7 percent increase since 2014.

Students who reported that teachers or another adult try to put a stop to bullying was only 56 percent for all grades.

“That number should definitely be higher than that,” said Ernst. “But now we need to look at the steps to resolve this and look at how we can get involved.”

The school board is currently developing a social and emotional learning plan for the upcoming school year to help students and staff understand and manage emotions, establish positive relationships, set healthy goals and show empathy towards others.

“Our goal is to equip students and staff with the skills necessary to build healthy relationships that positively affect their ability to cope with life's challenges,” said superintendent Greg Ebeling.

Year one of their concept plan will focus on the strengths and challenges they bring to the table as adults. They will focus on staff self-awareness and social awareness. Teachers, support staff, bus drivers, coaches and activity sponsors will be involved in the plan.

The school will be following national guidelines set by The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. The organization has more than two decades of research that shows social and emotional learning programs lead to increased academic achievement, improved behavior and strong return on investment.

Emily Hawk can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-628-3882.