One of the unfortunate realities of the pandemic is a sharp rise in the negative effects experienced by youth, including stress, anxiety, mental illness and suicide. A majority of schools are delivering instruction through remote or hybrid learning creating a real-time need for schools and teachers to identify and address the mental health and wellbeing of their students.
One Australian company, founded by a pair of entrepreneurial brothers, is making progress on that front. The premise of this company’s solution is self-reporting, or “checking in,” and it is being used in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and now the US.
Skodel is inspired by the experiences of identical twins Ian and Julian Fagan. During high school, Julian supported Ian through struggles with mental illness. After Ian’s recovery, they reflected on what they had learned. In particular, they realized that there are very few moments where young people feel comfortable enough to share, openly and honestly, about their experiences at school.
According to Julian, “We need to unlock the student voice by providing students with an outlet that makes it simple, safe and engaging to regularly communicate how they are doing. Skodel is built to be that outlet for students and empower schools with up-to-date information on their students’ wellbeing. Skodel’s mission is to give all students a voice that is heard and acted upon.”
Schools Called To Action
Schools are increasingly being called on to support the social and emotional development of each child. The Fagan brothers conducted a meta-study of over 50 international bodies of research pertaining to the health and wellbeing of students. Results of the meta-study revealed significant mental health concerns, with anxiety and depression on the rise and over 75% of mental illnesses developing during adolescence.
Julian contends that further pressure appears to come from the realization that wellbeing and learning outcomes are inextricably linked. When students feel anxious, they struggle to process new information. The challenge for schools is whether or not they can create environments where students feel connected, protected, and respected to optimize learning.
“One of the most powerful ways you can do this is by self-reporting, or checking in,” says Julian. “The data collected from checking in plays a key role for schools in managing the increasingly complex social and emotional needs of students. It informs immediate action for those at-risk and aids long-term planning by providing insights into the types of issues that emerge, when they emerge, and which groups are being impacted most heavily. Skodel is research-backed and makes managing the process of checking-in and providing support simple and effective.”
Skodel launched in March 2020 in Australia, and in the first eight months, saw over 30,000 students from a diverse range of schools adopt the concept of checking in. To date, over 250,000 check-ins have been sent, with a 60% completion rate. 75% of those students have left valuable written feedback for their teachers and school on how to make changes to better support their social and emotional needs.
“We have identified more than 450 at-risk students that were previously not known and helped schools connect these students to needed support,” says Julian. “The aggregated and longitudinal data have uncovered key insights that have enabled senior education leaders to adjust their programs and allocate resources more efficiently.” Julian shares that the data Skodel has collected has provided valuable information pertaining to bullying and the impact on different subsections of students as they transition from middle school to high school.
Julian explains,* “*The success of Skodel is measured primarily by student voice (student response, called check-ins). Are we engaging the student voice in social and emotional learning? For students, engagement is based on response rates, comments left, positive or negative emotions selected and indicators positively or negatively impacting their social and emotional wellbeing. These numbers reflect students who use their voice to express their thoughts and feelings, which can often be challenging for students to do during a typical school day.
For example, schools may notice that Year-8 students report higher levels of fatigue and a lack of sleep. As interventions to change this are implemented, we should see a drop in the number of students reporting fatigue and lack of sleep over time.”
Company principals Julian and Ian Fagan have begun the process of scaling Skodel. They have formed key distribution partnerships, including ANZUK Education in London, EP Education in New Zealand and Scoot Education in the United States. Like Australia, New Zealand and the UK, the US has seen a sharp rise in depression, anxiety and other mental illness during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to the company’s new distribution partnerships, Julian and Ian secured a funding round to support their growth. “It was a gruelling process that required us to pitch Skodel repeatedly to over 30 potential investors,” said Julian. “We were fortunate to have highly reputable cornerstone investors come on board. They saw this as an opportunity to make an impact where it matters most.”
Much of the funding will go toward product enhancements. The brothers have partnered with education psychologist Andrew Fuller, who has developed social and emotional programs in over 3,000 schools. Fuller will be supporting the development of Skodel Check-In, including individualized wellbeing plans and enhanced reporting insights. Student dashboards that empower students to self-regulate, track and manage their own wellbeing will be introduced during the 2021 school year. In addition, the company will invest in distribution expansion and client support.
One of the reasons Ian and Julian Fagan developed Skodel was in response to Ian’s own challenges with mental health while he was in school. “I do not believe we would have persisted if it was not for our own experiences with mental illness,” says Ian. “It took us over four years of research and development. It was a challenging time because there was nothing to suggest what we were doing was going to make any impact. The main source of motivation was our belief that this could be the outlet a young person needed to avoid the eventuality of a worst-case scenario. Since our first trial, it has been an extremely rewarding process to hear the feedback from schools that students are opening up and getting the support they need.”