Schools adding mental health program to support students

The beginning stages of a developing mental health program to support students at St. Charles Parish Public Schools will be implemented in the coming months, following unanimous approval by the parish’s School Board at its monthly meeting in August.

What will take effect this school year will be the “pilot” phase of what is hoped will be an expanding program that will help address the mental and emotional needs of students in the district, according to Jerry Smith, St. Charles’ Executive Director of Student Services.

The district will be hiring three full-time mental health professionals, one full time student advocate and one flexible replacement teacher who will be focused on working with younger students. The personnel will be working at three schools in the district to start, an elementary, middle and high school.

“Some studies suggest at least 70 percent of students are impacted by mental health concerns or at least one traumatic event in their life,” Smith said. “And so recognizing that and also recognizing that students are coming to school with a lot more issues and concerns than ever before, and there are limitations with the resources to support those needs in the community. So as a school district, we’re recognizing we need to support those students and those types of needs.”

Smith and district representatives have researched and reached out to other districts who have implemented similar programs.

“We’ve been learning what’s worked for them, what needs to be refined and what they would redo,” Smith said. “We’ve visited school campuses to see it in action. We want to have a quality program … to have the people with the right credentials in place to support our students.”

The student advocate position, for example, will have similar duties to that of the school counselors on staff already; only the advocate’s focus will be on providing intensive counseling along with academic, social and emotional guidance for students considered to be the most vulnerable.

“We have a staff of fantastic counselors, but they’re there to support issues that can be addressed at school. If a student needs more, we want to address it by having these additional mental health specialists at school,” Smith said.

[pullquote]“Some studies suggest at least 70 percent of students are impacted by mental health concerns or at least one traumatic event …  we’re recognizing we need to support those students.” — Jerry Smith[/pullquote]

Part of the job of the incoming hires will be to educate and support other school staff, such as teachers who would be most likely to interact with students in need first.

“It’s so they can be adequately trained to be able to recognize that maybe this student needs additional support,” Smith said. “We see these mental health providers working closely with other staff as part of a coordinated team, not as outsiders coming in to work in a silo.

“It’s a necessary step in order to address the whole child. To teach them, we have to address their emotional needs as well. We know if these children are provided that emotional support, they can and will benefit academically.”

The aim is for the first hires to be up for Board approval in October, with the others being in place by the middle of the school year.

Mental health support in schools

  • Research demonstrates that students who receive social–emotional and mental health support achieve better academically. School climate, classroom behavior, on-task learning, and students’ sense of connectedness and well-being all improve as well.
  • According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five children and adolescents experience a mental health problem during their school years.
  • Research has shown that students are more likely to seek counseling when services are available in schools.
  • Comprehensive mental health services are most effective when provided through a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) but school-employed mental health professionals.
  • All Information comes according to the National Association of School Psychologists


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