Two Campbell and Fayette schools working diligently to bring mental health care to students
Before the pandemic, Amy Beal, the school counselor for Donald E. Cline Elementary in Cold Spring already had a robust plan to improve the mental health of the schools’ students, educators and families. From sending self-care tips to staff, to hosting individual student therapy, and school-wide bullying prevention, students were well cared for. That care paid off when the pandemic began and students already had background knowledge of social-emotional skills, and both students and parents were aware of the school’s counseling supports. When the 2020-21 school year began, virtual needs assessments were sent to parents and guardians, and subsequent counseling sessions were set up with students who expressed needs.
Now that in-person classes are ramping up, Beal says she’s optimistic that student behaviors and mental health are in a good place.
“We are only 1.5 weeks into 5-days-per-week in-person instruction so it may be too soon to tell but we are optimistic! Parents reported increased behavior challenges at home during virtual and hybrid learning models and many students report enjoying in-person school a great deal more than virtual or hybrid learning. Students now seem to have a greater understanding of how national and global events affect their daily lives, as well as a greater appreciation for the value of in-person relationships.”
Winburn Middle School in Fayette County also had robust mental health programs before the pandemic. School Social Worker Serena Culbertson said they were fortunate to have 2.5 child guidance specialists/school counselors, a fulltime school social worker, a fulltime school psychologist, and a fulltime district mental health specialist already in place for the nearly 800 enrolled students.
“We provide individual and small group counseling as well as social skills groups,” said Culbertson. “Staff and parents/guardians can refer students to our student support office for individual counseling. Students can also self-refer themselves via a confidential online student support request form. Our staff are able and encouraged to access free youth mental health first aid trainings through our school district.”
Culbertson said the school also supports the mental health needs of students by providing confidential space for therapists and case managers from community mental health agencies to provide services at school during the school day. This reduces the amount of class time missed by students and increases the collaboration between school, home, and the agencies providing therapy to our students.
At the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, when students had already been at home since March, the counseling team at Winburn called all families to ask about support needs. In November, they also offered a free virtual workshops for parents and guardians regarding adolescent mental health.
Both Culbertson and Beal say there are intentional strategies that other schools can emulate to improve mental health supports.
“Review systems at your school with your student support staff to find ways to increase communication, reduce overlap in services, and ensure that comprehensive services are provided and reach all students,” said Culbertson.
Beal says it’s important to observe the culture and climate of the current environment, and focus on the impact of making small, intentional changes over time.
“District staff members who travel between school buildings often comment on the positive, warm, welcoming environment of Cline Elementary. There is not any one major difference between Cline and other schools, but a combination of many small efforts across multiple delivery methods (such as staff training, daily messaging on the Cline Morning News, bulletin boards, student recognition, counseling core curriculum, and regular assemblies.)”