Immediately after Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland reported to the school board at its Feb. 28 meeting that she had good news – “only 30 new cases last week of COVID-19 in the district” – she added that there has been a significant increase in mental health and behavioral issues throughout the pandemic.

Quoting a recent story in the Observer, she said Sandoval Regional Medical Center CEO Jamie Silva Steele had said, “Mental health is the next pandemic.”

“We are actually seeing that play out in our district, in our community,” Cleveland said. “There are so many needs … (and it’s) hard to find the resources.”

She said she wants to do what’s best not only for the 17,000 RRPS students, but also for the staff.

Here’s a start: “Character Strong,” a curriculum newly available to teachers via software, with students needing nothing more than their Chromebooks and/or a pencil and paper, may alleviate the woes of education during the pandemic.

The program has been in use at Sandia Vista Elementary, with a school counselor appearing via a video presentation to the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education at its meeting Monday evening.

“(It) really covers a lot of ground,” counselor Jaime David said.

The thought is to expand the program beyond elementary and middle schools to the high schools next school year.

For more information, pick up a copy of the March 6 Observer this weekend.