Supporting students’ mental health has long been a priority for Hays Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) in Kyle, Texas. To be successful, Hays CISD works to strengthen human connections between students and staff to promote online student safety.
In recent years, it has become harder for teachers and staff to identify students who might be experiencing mental health issues. Hays CISD turned to Lightspeed Alert to help them proactively identify struggling students in an evolving learning environment.
OPPORTUNITY: GREATER VISIBILITY INTO STUDENT WELL-BEING IN A DIGITAL WORLD
Serving more than 20,000 students across 26 campuses, Hays CISD is a large and growing district that strives to provide unique, personalized educational experiences where every student feels seen and supported. However, the rise of student mental health issues and school violence, combined with increased digital interaction, led the district to recognize that its limited ability to monitor student behavior and online student safety was preventing it from identifying students who may be struggling in silence.
Prior to adopting Lightspeed Alert, Hays CISD relied on campus counselors, an anonymous tip line, and in-person observations to identify at-risk students in need of mental health support. In middle school campuses, they also used Google email monitoring with Google Admin rules and a word list to flag objectionable content in emails for manual review by IT staff. However, this focused more on obscene content and not on the safety and well-being of students. “We didn’t really have much of a solution in place to keep up with kids’ mental health issues, other than counselors and our anonymous tip line. That left a gray area where we were relying on kids saying they needed help or reporting that a friend needed help,” recalls John Gonzalez, Network Engineer and part of the team that spearheaded the adoption of Lightspeed Alert.
As the provider of student devices, including Apple iPads for grades K-1 and Google Chromebooks for grades 2-12, the district had responsibility for the safety and security of students using those devices—on campus and at home. This responsibility became more acute during the pandemic as district personnel realized how much they might miss due to their inability to effectively monitor and assess student behavior and online student safety. “We wanted to be able to monitor what students were going through, to see if they needed help. Kids may not be showing any signs outwardly, but internally something is going on. We know they are using their devices, either chatting with friends or looking things up, and those things could let us know that they need help,” says Gonzalez.
Solution: Comprehensive coverage and increased collaboration for better student support
Hays CISD’s partnership with Lightspeed Systems® began with Lightspeed FilterTM as an extension of their current on-premises firewall filtering capabilities. As the IT Department learned more about Lightspeed Alert, an at-risk student identification solution that monitors and analyzes student online activity for signs of self-harm, violence, and bullying, they realized this was something their district needed and spearheaded an initial pilot of the solution. “We were surprised because we didn’t really know what to expect. But when we saw the things that were going on, it was eye- opening,” recalls Kris Peterson, Director of Administrator Support. Within weeks, they gathered enough data to support the district-wide implementation of the solution for online student safety.
Hays CISD leverages Lightspeed Alert’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology to scan online student activity—across web browsers, social media, YouTube, and Google and Microsoft productivity apps—and flag potential risks and threats for further review. This comprehensive coverage gives the district visibility into warning signs they would not normally see. “Externally, kids might not show signs that something’s going on, but they’re confiding in their devices these days, and we had no way to monitor that,” says John Gonzalez. In fact, shortly after implementing Lightspeed Alert, Gonzalez noticed that many flagged alerts came from searches and web activity, underscoring the potential signs of students suffering they would have previously missed.
The district’s process for managing alerts has evolved over time with increased collaboration and communication across departments to promote online student safety. “This is a brand-new thing for us. This is new digital information that we didn’t have access to in the past. And we originally had no idea what we were getting into,” admits Gonzalez.
What began as a two-person IT team reviewing all alerts and then delegating to the appropriate campus personnel has expanded into a cross-functional team effort. At the district level, the offices of the Director of Counseling, Chief of Safety and Security, and IT are now involved, as well as counselors, principals, and assistant principals at each campus level. Notification and case management features enable the central office to easily delegate alerts to campus staff based on self-harm or violence and confirm action has been taken. Designated district and campus personnel can then review alert details, view recent web searches and site history, and update case notes.
Lightspeed Alert’s human review component has been essential to the district’s satisfaction with online student safety. Flagged alerts are sent to both designated district personnel and Lightspeed’s team of highly trained safety specialists. These safety specialists evaluate alerts 24/7/265 and immediately escalate all high-risk or imminent threats to the district. This both expands staff bandwidth by taking the initial alert triage off their plate and prioritizes urgent concerns.
“Initially, our counselors were getting emails after hours, and they didn’t know how to handle it. We now delay notifications until the next business morning. For example, if an incident occurs on Friday at 8 PM, they won’t get that alert until Monday at 7 AM. But if it’s a critical event, we know a Lightspeed Safety Specialist will call us about it. This has reduced staff anxiety about missed alerts,” explains Gonzalez. With the peace of mind that the most pressing concerns will be prioritized and escalated to the appropriate district contacts, staff can devote more time to building relationships and creating a safe and connected school environment for all students.
Successfully Getting District Buy-In
Gonzalez also stresses the importance of involving multiple departments from the beginning. “Getting buy-in is one of the most important things to making the rollout of this product as successful as possible,” states Gonzalez. “After our initial pilot, the product really sold itself. We were about to see stuff we weren’t seeing before, so when it came time for purchase, [district leaders] had student safety and security top of mind, and it wasn’t a hard battle. It was a question of knowing that this information is there, how do we, in good conscience, not move forward with this product knowing that we can help more students with online safety,” explains Gonzalez. Gaining this district-level buy-in made implementing the solution much easier. “Having those conversations upfront allowed us to say, ‘This product is a critical tool to take care of our students, so this is what we are going to do.’”
Results: Early Identification to get the students the help they need with online safety
Validation for adopting Lightspeed Alert came almost immediately. Within weeks of implementing Lightspeed Alert, Hays CISD was able to identify and support two students at risk of suicide and prevent three instances of violence. During the first nine months, Lightspeed Alert identified 332 high risks and 16 imminent threats to student safety. “We were shocked by the number of real threats to our students we were alerted on,” states Kris Peterson. “We are really glad we pushed for this.”
Lightspeed Alert has helped counselors drive earlier, more effective intervention and support and devote more time to building intentional connections. “We’ve been able to identify students that really needed help but weren’t asking for it. Counselors were able to move them toward help, medication, treatment plans,” says John Gonzalez. School counselors have really embraced Lightspeed Alert and have come to rely on it daily. “They are able to help kids that were not on their radar. And, for kids that were on their radar, it has showed them that they may be worse off than they thought,” says Gonzalez.
In addition to the early identification of struggling students, data from Lightspeed Alert is being used to proactively support student well-being by influencing district hiring and resource plans. Additional mental health and safety personnel have been hired as a direct result of issues brought to light by Lightspeed Alert. According to Gonzalez, “We have done a complete 180 from what we were doing before. It was a guessing game before. Now we have hard data showing that kids really do need help. And we’re trying to make the resources available for them to get the help they need.”
“This product is a high priority for us. At the end of the day, our student safety is the most important thing for us here,” Gonzalez emphasizes.
About Lightspeed Systems
Lightspeed Systems, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is a leading online safety and effectiveness platform for K–12 schools. A proven partner for student safety and engagement, Lightspeed uses advanced AI to view and analyze student activity across the web. Lightspeed serves over 20 million students in 38 countries and 28,000 schools globally.