Moving Counselors into schools has referrals on track to double
By Tessa Duvall
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Florida Times Union
It wouldn’t be unusual to walk past Room 105 at Saint Clair Evans Academy before school starts and hear “The Electric Slide,” or maybe “The Cha Cha Slide,” coming from the other side of the door.
Inside, Tyrenia Cross has dragged her table and chairs off to the side and cranked up the music.
“Whatever your frustration is, whatever your problem is, whatever happened before you left home this morning, let’s dance it off because we have to be engaged in school today,” Cross tells students. “We have to be focused and we can’t have anything distracting us.”
She’s even getting teachers to bust a move.
“Girl, you need to come and dance with me in the morning,” she tells them. “‘Just give me five minutes. Five minutes. All I need is five minutes.’ … It just changes the atmosphere.”
Cross is not the school’s dance teacher, but its new licensed mental-health counselor.
Duval County Public Schools, alongside several of Jacksonville’s nonprofits, is piloting a nearly $1.2 million program called Full Service Schools Plus that embeds a therapist in each of the 12 schools within the Ribault High School feeder pattern in northwest Jacksonville.
The new approach aims to increase students’ access to mental-health services by reducing the barriers, such as transportation and demands on parental time, that sometimes prevent them from receiving help.
And so far, it’s working. Referrals in the feeder pattern are on pace to double over the previous school year.
The goal is healthier, happier children who are less likely to have behavior problems and more able to learn in class.
“You’d be hard-pressed not to talk to teachers today, especially in certain communities, and them not talk about the challenges children bring with them to the classroom, regarding behavior, sickness, even mental health,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “Now we’re starting to talk about it in Jacksonville.”
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