Stemming from a new spending plan, students in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will soon see an increase in available mental health resources.
On Feb. 3, the CHCCS Board of Education met and approved a spending plan for the Orange County Mental Health and Achievement Grant. Ten positions will be added to support the district’s social and emotional learning and mental health services.
The estimated cost of implementing this recommendation is $868,000, funded by the Board of Orange County Commissioners.
Three SEL specialists will be hired at an estimated cost of $240,000, and seven mental health specialists will be hired at the elementary and middle school levels at a cost of $560,000. The remaining $68,500 in funding will be used for professional learning, curriculum development and program evaluation.
“Those positions will be able to focus on services for advancing school-based mental health awareness, providing quality prevention and intervention, as well as all other supports for our students and families,” Charlos Banks, chief of school support and wellness, said.
The recommendation for the grant said that it is particularly important to acknowledge the impact that COVID-19 has had on the overall mental health of students in particular.
“I think that all of us can agree that we have certainly seen a significant impact on not only our students as it pertains to mental health and wellness, but also our staff as well as our families,” Banks said.
Banks read statements submitted by three local principals on how they have witnessed the pandemic's impact on the mental well-being of students and staff.
Robert Bales, principal of McDougle Middle School, said in a statement that the school's data shows students' need for more support in areas that the school has not been able to focus on.
“Our adverse childhood experiences scores are increasing, and the one to 250 counselor to student ratios are not low enough to be able to focus on some of the students who really need interventions," Bales said.
Crystal Epps, principal of Mary Scroggs Elementary School, said in a statement that emotional support has been slow to come for elementary students.
“The need for social-emotional supports at the elementary level is immediate and urgent,” Epps said. “We're currently at a pivotal historical moment, and we must act now to support the emotional health of our students.”
Banks said one of the barriers identified in mental health assistance in schools was that there was no common definition for SEL. She said the instruction around it is inconsistent and needs to be expanded from counselors to include teachers, families and the community as a whole, and it must be integrated into academic instruction.
“I think we know that all of our students in some form or fashion have been impacted, not only by the past two years of the pandemic, but just in some other fashion in terms of their social and emotional and mental health well-being,” Banks said.
Board member Jillian LaSerna raised concerns over the staffing of the proposed new positions.
She said it is incredibly important that the district hires qualified individuals who will have opportunities for professional growth once in the positions.
“I'm completely supportive of this effort," LaSerna said. “Having been in an elementary school, I think that this is something quite honestly that elementary school principals have been asking for since I was an elementary school principal.”
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