Petal School District implements social, emotional improvement measures

By HASKEL BURNS,

As part of their continuing efforts to address, maintain and improve social and emotional needs in the Petal School District, school officials are rolling out two new measures designed to provide students and parents with information and resources on those topics.

The first initiative, which is aimed at fostering positive conversation with families, entails the district sending cards to be displayed in the storefronts of various businesses around Petal, including PERKS partners, members of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, churches, banks and restaurants. Each card will bear the school district’s current “Word of the Month,” which is spread throughout schools in the district via teachers, staff and the intercom.

“I truly believe that the only way that you’re going to make total change around social and emotional is around the family unit,” said district superintendent Matt Dillon. “We only have seven or seven and a half hours (with the students), and churches only have a small portion of time when they attend.

“Businesses only see them for a little glimpse, so I really think that if change is going to take place, it has to take place in the family unit. So we’ve got to find ways to tap into that.”

The word of the month for December is “contentment,” which Dillon said comes at a great time during the holiday season.

“I know when I take my youngest daughter to Walmart, she wants everything on the shelf, and that’s really not great for contentment,” he said. “I don’t want this to be confused with ‘complacency’ – it talks in books about how contentment is a good thing, with being content with your position and job.

“So we want to try to let kids understand what this word means and what it’s about. You hear this word on the intercom, you hear teachers and coaches talk about it, but we’re extending it to businesses so when you go up to the storefront of a business, you’re going to see this sign.”

The initiative has already worked for Dillon and his family, who had a discussion about the sign that is displayed at Zaxby’s in Petal.

“It allowed us to have a conversation organically, right there at Zaxby’s,” Dillon said. “And that’s what we want – just a little card stock that we’re looking to provide and put in storefronts every month. Hopefully, that’s going to be some good conversation taking place.”

The second initiative, which is aimed more at students in upper grades, is a monthly video series titled “Real Talk PSD.” The series, which can be found on the Petal School District YouTube channel, features various officials and experts discussing serious topics such as suicide and depression.

“We know that we have social media at our fingertips, and there’s a lot of bad that’s associated with social media, but we want to use it as good,” Dillon said. “This (video about suicide) is hopefully going to allow people to have a better understanding around stats, around what myths are out there, and also what resources are out there for those that feel like they’re in a dark place.”

The video topic for January will be depression, which Dillon said had been addressed to him by a local pastor who was concerned about a congregation member.

“That’s what it’s about, is us coming together as a community to do this,” he said. “I’m glad that we’re taking the lead on this, and I’m glad we’re doing this.

“I know some people in Jones County are looking at it, and some of our colleagues on the Coast that are now looking at these videos. So I’m glad that we’re taking the lead on this, and are not afraid to talk about these heavy topics in an effort to help our kids and our families to be healthy.”