Mental health and wellness in schools

Posted by Julie Critz on 4/18/2018 9:00:00 AM

Preparing all of our students academically for success in the future is our goal. Safeguarding students’ mental health and wellness is integral to fulfilling that goal. The mental health of our students allows them to establish and maintain healthy relationships, make good life choices, avoid risky behaviors, handle the ups and downs of life, and discover and grow towards their fullest potential. To that end, I want to share with you some of the strategies we have in place to address the mental wellness of our students.

On-site mental health services
Alexandria Public Schools provides a range of mental health supports by blending school resources with community resources. The district has numerous programs, interventions, and licensed staff in place to support students. Our team includes the district Student Support Services Department, and school guidance counselors, deans of students, psychologists and social workers. 

Our Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) includes Student Intervention Teams that meet weekly to identify students who might benefit from mental health supports. The student might be struggling with a family crisis, experiencing a loss or dealing with another personal or overwhelming issue. The goal is to help them reach a stable place emotionally so the child can continue their education successfully. This proactive approach allows our school system to be responsive and get students and families connected to services.

Alexandria Public Schools understands that accessing mental health services can be challenging for students and families. Our district has benefitted from long-standing partnerships with other local agencies (Lakeland Mental Health, Family Innovations, Village Family Service Cooperative, etc.) to provide access to qualified mental health professionals within the school setting. Services come to the building and in this sense, our schools create bridges to the mental health system.

Providing students’ access to mental health services during the school day reduces barriers to services. Parents do not have to leave their place of employment to pick up their child and bring him/her to a mental health appointment. Students can access mental health services on-site, creating consistency and limiting or avoiding missed class time.

We very much appreciate the collaborative relationships we have developed with these agencies to enhance the conditions for learning by providing easily accessible support.

Potential of expanding support systems
Additional funding as part of a school safety package is being discussed at the current state legislative session. The money could be used to enhance programming and provide greater support in some of the schools with additional counselors and expanded school-linked mental health services.

Building connections and relationships
We recognize the important role schools play in addressing the mental health and wellness of our students and families. Our district and building action plans identify strategies around building connections and relationships that support students and families. Here are just a couple of examples:

Our staff work hard to ensure that each student is known by name and that each student has a connection to a caring adult in their school – someone they can go to and talk to for emotional support.

The Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program, staffed by licensed early childhood and parent educators, is a program for parents and their children birth to kindergarten entrance. Our goal is to offer play and learning experiences for children that encourage the development of skills and readiness for school, and provide important resources and support for parents.

Our Lunch Buddy program creates a connection between an elementary student and an adult volunteer. Adult volunteers are important role models for our youth and can influence a child in a positive way. Anyone can be a role model or mentor, it does not take a degree; it just takes a caring person and a commitment of time. Many of our adults that get connected to students through the Lunch Buddy program stay in touch with their buddy beyond elementary school – the connection and the support from the community remains.

We invite all caring adults to get engaged with our youth in whatever manner you can – through church, by volunteering in classrooms, youth organizations, and in a number of other ways.

Mental health issues encompass the entire community
We are also aware that mental health is a community-wide issue that needs discussion and action on a broader scale. As part of a mental health coalition, Horizon Public Health aims to build strong families by bringing community partners together to collaborate and focus in on mental health prevention strategies. What if mental health could be detected early or avoided all together?

I am encouraged by this collective awareness and commitment to all of us working to strengthen children and families who are most in need of support. Alexandria Public Schools’ looks forward to the ongoing partnerships and discussion with our community.