CHCCS votes to invest more than $860,000 in mental health resources at last meeting

As a result of a new spending plan, students at schools in the city of Chapel Hill-Carrboro will soon see an increase in available mental health resources.

On February 3, the CHCCS School Board met and approved a spending plan for the Orange County Mental Health and Success Grant. Ten positions will be added to support the district’s social and emotional learning and mental health services.

The estimated cost to implement this recommendation is $868,000, funded by the Orange County Board of 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 intermediate levels at a cost of $560,000. The remaining funding of $68,500 will be used for professional learning, curriculum development and program evaluation.

“These positions may focus on services to advance school mental health awareness, provide quality prevention and intervention, and all other supports for our students and their families,” Charlos Banks, head of school support and wellbeing, said.

The recommendation for the grant said it is particularly important to recognize the impact that COVID-19 has had on the overall mental health of students in particular.

“I think we can all agree that we have certainly seen a significant impact not only on our students when it comes to mental health and wellbeing, but also on our staff as well as our families,” Banks noted.

Banks read statements submitted by three local principals about how they witnessed the impact of the pandemic on the mental well-being of students and staff.

Robert Bales, principal of McDougle Middle School, said in a statement that data from the school shows students need more support in areas the school has been unable to focus on.

“Our negative childhood experiences scores are going up, and the ratios of one to 250 counselors per student aren’t 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 was slow in coming for elementary students.

“The need for socio-emotional support at the elementary level is immediate and urgent,” Epps said. “We are currently at a pivotal historic 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 broadened from counselors to include teachers, families and the wider community, and it needs to be integrated into school teaching.

“I think we know that all of our students, in one form or way, have been impacted, not only by the last two years of the pandemic, but just in another way in terms of social, emotional and mental,” Banks said.

Jillian LaSerna, member of the board of directors, expressed concern about the staffing of the new positions proposed.

She said it is extremely important that the district hires qualified people who will have opportunities for professional growth once in place.

“I totally support this effort,” LaSerna said. “Having been in a primary school, I think that’s something very honest that primary school principals have been asking for since I was a primary school principal.”


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