help us address the mental health needs of our students.” That’s the plea heard time and again from educators across Central Alabama. As youth struggle with mental health issues at increasing rates, school systems are working harder than ever before to deal with these mounting problems in constructive ways. The Bold Goals Coalition has been working with a number of community partners to address the issue during the past two years through a pilot project of the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership. We are now excited to expand this work into both school systems in Walker County.
Jasper City Schools and Walker County Schools have committed to a plan that will enhance mental health training for staff, improve assessments and upgrade direct services for students. As a first step, staff from both school systems participated in The Mandt System training with Gateway to focus on building healthy relationships and teaching new responses to challenging behaviors. “The Mandt training was one of the best professional development programs our system has received addressing mental health issues and youth,” said Dr. Ann Jackson, Jasper City Schools Superintendent. “Our goal is to eventually have everyone in our system trained.”
Funding for this project expansion, which will be coordinated by the Walker County Health Action Partnership, has been provided by the Walker Area Community Foundation (WACF). Paul Kennedy, President of WACF, said,
“As a funder, WACF is always looking for ways that we can solve the problem more so than treat the symptom. We are very excited by the possibilities of including behavioral health in schools as an excellent way to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences and to address poor mental health days in a loving and nurturing environment. We believe this is the beginning of the removal of substantial barriers to our youth achieving their highest aspirations in education, in health and in their future career paths.”
In addition to crisis prevention and early intervention training, the school systems will be administering a universal screener, where teachers proactively identify behavioral issues and assess both internalizing and externalizing behaviors. The final component of the project is connecting direct services to students identified with behavioral health needs. In July, school system staff hosted a meeting with local behavioral healthcare providers to learn more about services offered to youth in both school and counseling settings.
When asked about involvement in the project, Misty Whisenhunt, Mental Health Coordinator for Walker County Schools, said, “I am so thankful for WACF, the Bold Goals Coalition and United Way of Central Alabama for locking arms with us to break new ground in addressing the mental health needs in the schools. Their partnership has made all the difference in a successful start – providing direction and guidance along this new journey. They have assisted in the establishment of new connections with other agencies within our community as well as with other districts. The resources and additional support they have provided is truly a gift. Their partnership came at the exact moment the district administration said “yes” to meeting the students’ mental health needs!”
The partnership from both school systems has been tremendous. “Our superintendents and their faculty and staff are to be commended for taking this bold step forward for our youth,” said Kennedy.
The Bold Goals Coalition is 200 organizations solving big community problems by aligning partners, resources and agencies.