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Viewpoint: Ybarra discusses education priorities / Smart Women, Smart Money

Supt. Sherri Ybarra says her priorities are teacher pay, early literacy and mental health of students. Plus, Smart Women, Smart Money conference to mark 20 years.

BOISE, Idaho — It's a reality. Many Idaho students get bullied, feel sad or hopeless, or even think about suicide.  

State leaders want to make a major investment to help those kids deal with social and emotional challenges.              

It's a big focus for them this year.

"That's something that parents had a huge concern across the state as I talked to them about this very issue," Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said.

The 2019 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Study anonymously surveyed more than 1,200 students in ninth through twelfth grades in 45 schools across the state. 

 21% of those students reported being bullied on school grounds. 16% reported electronic bullying; both 10-year lows. 

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But 39% reported feeling sad or hopeless. That's a 10-year high. 

22% seriously considered suicide; also a 10-year high.

8% missed school because they felt unsafe.

Concern over this led Superintendent Ybarra and Governor Brad Little to both recommend in their budget requests putting $1 million toward the problem. 

The money would pay for resources and training for teachers and staff to help students dealing with social and emotional challenges, including trauma and mental illness.   

"Maybe in northern Idaho they'd like to look at trauma-informed teaching practices. Maybe in eastern Idaho they would like to look at more training around suicide prevention and bullying," Ybarra said. "It's whatever the local districts need in the best interests of their students."

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Creating resources and training to help students facing these challenges is also one of the recommendations handed down by the governor's "Our Kids, Idaho's Future" public education task force.

The legislature will decide whether to approve that funding.  

This Sunday morning at 6:30 on Viewpoint Superintendent Ybarra further discusses the need for this investment in students' mental well-being and about her other priorities for 2020,

Those include increasing teacher pay and improving literacy among our youngest students.  

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