DES MOINES, Iowa — The mental health needs of adults and children alike were highlighted during the initial isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death in the age group of 10-24. And at least one in five students across the country has seriously considered the act.

The Des Moines Public School District announced they are looking to change how they approach mental health issues through a new software called Beacon. The software is developed through Go Guardian. The software will be able to track students’ activity on web browsers, applications and more.

“So keywords, pictures, song lyrics, poems, anything within that web browser. And then on the app side of things, like student conversations, if a student were to say, ‘I’m feeling sad, I’m feeling depressed, I want to kill myself,’ it generates an alert based off those things,” said Tim Johnson the behavioral health services coordinator at DMPS.

After an alert is triggered, a group of assigned staff members will look through the alert information provided. That includes what prompted the alert and recent screenshots of the student’s screen to give context to the alert. From there the staff members will evaluate the risk, either go talk with the student, notify the parents or recommend services at a hospital depending on how high-risk the alert is.

“When you leave school you kind of forget what school is like and then you also forget that people do care about you,” said Johnson. “Social media is everywhere, we’re influenced by all of those things that are happening in the world. Just to have that person in the building that you can connect with and build that relationship as well as feel safe and secure, it opens doors for more conversations around this project.”

The Beacon program costs the district $1.92 per device, and with 30,000 students in the district it is around $60,000 total to install it on every laptop. This year the funding is covered by ESSER federal funds.

One parent said that she thinks this is a good way to approach mental health problems.

“I think it’s needed with these kids today, especially my kids. You never know what kids are struggling with at home,” said Shykel Parrish as she was picking up her kids from a DMPS school. “I think there should be a choice if you could opt in or opt out though.”

The software will be required on every student’s laptop in the district. The software will still work when the student has their laptop at home on their home Wi-Fi server.