The first day of school is just around the corner, and school-based professionals are getting ready.
Not just teachers and administrators, but hundreds of mental health counselors, social workers, and nurses gathered at Ronald Reagan Senior High School in Doral for The Children’s Trust annual training conference, an exercise designed to get the attendees up to speed in time for the first school bell to ring.
In one of the workshops, mental health professionals were discussing a variety of issues, including the imperative that all staff on campus, not just counselors, learn how to spot the warning signs that a student might be in crisis. That training process has already begun, according to Sally Alayon, who heads the mental health services department of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health, they’re very aware that if they see a child in need, that child needs to be referred, parents are buying into it, also,” Alayon said.
She says it’s part of the effort to erase the stigma of seeking mental health services in school.
“They don’t have to come to us, we go to them, and we provide the services from either trauma-informed therapy to just pre-therapy because they’re having a panic attack,” said Lissette Colla-Maza, a mental health counselor who works in inner-city schools.
The Children’s Trust invests more than $16 million a year to staff 150 school-based clinics, and those clinics are the only places where some kids can access healthcare.
‘We’re starting to expand their services throughout the community, especially for kids that really need the help because sometimes they don’t have doctors, they don’t have access to any sort of medical professional and we are the ones that are here as a resource,” said school nurse Eduardo Barrio.
Over the past two school years, pandemic isolation and then repopulation in schools caused a ton of mental health issues, but now, the school district is hoping they’ve turned the corner.
“We know that there are some children who are still experiencing some challenges, some social-emotional, mental health challenges and whether it be going to the school nurse, who are here today, working with the social worker or one of the mental health professionals, so much help is around you and we bring this message not only to students that this help is around you but we bring it to all the staff members to ensure that they take advantage of these opportunities and refer students to these supports and refer parents to these supports as well,” Alayon said.
Her department has been on a hiring spree in the past two years, with 118 counselors and the district is looking to bring in 15 more.
It’s an indication of how much importance they place on the issue of mental wellness.