SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Suffolk Public Schools decided to take a deeper dive into school safety this year. While it has the physical elements of protection for students and staff, administrators took it one step further.

“When we think about safety, we always think about physical safety, but what about the emotional part? That’s important to student achievement,” said Dr. Rodney Brown, Chief of Administrative Services for Suffolk Public Schools.

Dr. Brown is excited about a new program his team plans to roll out this school year called Rhithm.

“The teacher is going to be able to see, OK, does Cindy need a little extra support today? Do I need to reach out to the counselor, just give a little extra nudge throughout the day, just to just check in,” said Cindy Devers, coordinator of social emotion support for Suffolk Public Schools.

Devers says Rhithm is an app that allows students to do an individual daily check-in to start their day, sharing where they are mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, and energy-wise.

“Those responses also go to our school counselors and our administrators. So, we’re able to intervene before things happen.”

Devers says it takes less than three minutes to complete, and the students answer using five sets of emojis.

“Students can choose if they want to text the response as well just to give us a little extra feedback on that. Those scores will do an algorithm, and the students will get an independent video that gives them a self-regulation just based on what they answered for the day.”

Dr. Brown said, “What I like about it is it’s safe for students to say, ‘I’m not okay.’ Right? No one is going to judge you. No one is going to be in the room and say, ‘Oh this kid is having a breakdown or having some problems at home.’ It’s okay. You know, it’s okay if you come in and say, ‘I’m hungry.’ It’s okay if something happened in the community. It’s okay to say, ‘I’m having problems with other students in school.’ So, it’s a safe place for them to reach out for help, and many times they don’t know how to.”

The app also tracks the patterns of students.

“If they come in here multiple days while having some bad days three days in a row, let’s get some resources to connect with this student, but because they may not even know that they’re needing help,” Dr. Brown said.

Only a student’s teacher, counselor, and administrators can see the response and offer help, when needed, to start the day off right.

“Students are why we do what we do. We need to make sure that they are safe and healthy before we can ever begin to think about our academics,” Devers said.

Suffolk Public Schools rolled out the Rhithm program in its summer school. This school year, administrators plan to implement it at their largest middle school, King’s Fork Middle, as well as one alternative setting. Their goal is to expand the program in the coming years.