LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — Thousands of Loudoun County Public Schools educators will be trained in recognizing signs of emotional distress, anxiety and depression in their students. Director of Diagnostics and Prevention Services John Lody says LCPS is working to require the training using Kognito: a role-play virtual software with simulated conversations. 

“It’s become incumbent upon school divisions to recognize the importance of mental health and healthy development that includes social and emotional development of our children,” Lody said. 

The training will be made possible in-part by philanthropic organization 100WomenStrong, which donated $25,000 to the Loudoun Education Foundation’s Mental Health and Wellness initiative. The grant was part of the organization’s fourth wave of COVID-19 relief. 

Lody says the school system has been piloting with the program for a couple of years. Kognito provides feedback in real time as educators work through a series of simulated conversations with students under mental duress. 

100WomenStrong’s Outreach Coordinator Lara Major says the organization liked Kognito because it was online. LCPS employs 6,000 to 8,000 educators at a time, so training sessions in person would take years to complete. 

Lody says 20% of adolescents suffer from mental illness and many go without treatment, making them more at risk of discipline problems and dropping out. The early intervention training will make teachers more approachable, and teachers can continue to use the system for one year. “The vast majority of people pass through public school system’s doors and so teachers are in a great position to recognize a kid who is needing additional assistance,” said Lody. “And so training teachers to recognize those signs and take immediate action can put the kid on a better pathway and be more successful both at school, at home and in life.”

Major is a former LCPS educator and says she wishes she’d had this resource for her students. “I have great optimism that we’re removing the stigma from mental health and this is a powerful part of that: providing instruction to our teachers so that they no longer look at this as something that’s unapproachable is a really key element in strengthening our school system,” she said.