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Local school districts expanding mental health services for new school year

Local school districts expanding mental health services for new school year
Posted at 8:01 PM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 08:59:21-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — As students are returning to the classroom in the upcoming weeks, many local school districts are expanding mental health services for students, staff and families.

The pandemic exacerbated a growing concern of mental health among kids and teens. Schools in the Pikes Peak Region are taking notice and taking action to make sure they're providing as many resources they can this school year.

“It had been being burned out from being virtual, and no longer wanting to be there any longer, and then not knowing really how to adjust,” said Emilia Ramirez, the counseling coordinator at Harrison School District Two.

In March the CDC reported that 37% of high school students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. More students across the country and locally were reaching out for mental health services, including at District 2.

“There's been a lot of people reaching out to counselors and social workers, and school psychologists too for more support, including our staff,” said Ramirez.

This school year, the district is offering a family assistance program in partnership with Beacon Options Mental Health, where students and families can get referrals and connections to therapists. Students and their families can call the family assistance line to get connected to counselors in the community.

Staff also get five free sessions per calendar year for themselves or family members. Plus, the district is making sure every school will have a counselor and social worker.

“When you see a decline of anything, we want to be sure to provide the resources and the support that we need to get everybody up to where they are,” said Ramirez.

As a district wellness initiative, the district has also partnered with the mindfulness and positivity project, which helps educate employees on self care.

“We teach skills to educators, so when they go back and they’re working directly with the students, they’re able to implement those skills, which in turn help the students,” said Ramirez.

At Colorado Springs School District 11, they’re also expanding services for students and families.

“The number of school counselors that we have in the district is definitely growing. We will have one in every school,” said Valerie Scates, the executive director for student success.

She says last year there were about 90 counselors, and now there are more than 100.

“We offer small group support if students need it, individualized support if they need it,” said Scates. “And then if students and families need resources outside of the school, we also help them find those resources.”

Scates says the district also expanded on site mental health services with outside mental health providers. At least half of the schools will have on site counseling.

“I think setting those expectations is really important and also letting students and families know what supports we do provide,” said Scates.

It’s a growing concern, but now a growing number of resources for districts across the region.

“There's definitely more awareness in our community and that there are mental health needs,” said Scates.

At Widefield School District Three, they've put together a new committee focused on mental health. They'll be identifying needs for staff, students and families, and begin working on an action plan for this school year. A spokesperson for the district also said the district was proactive on adding more mental health staff before the pandemic, and the mental health team meets weekly to identify trends to help direct staff training.

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