BRYANT, Ark. – The back to school season is here and more districts are putting a focus on mental health this year.
Issues like anxiety and depression are at an all-time high with students across the country. As teachers get ready for students to hit the hallways in the Bryant School District, administrators are now turning the focus beyond math, science and social studies.
“There’s a huge need for mental health now more than ever,” Bryant School District Student Services and Federal Programs Director Michele Lewis said.
Lewis said a few years ago, studies showed 50 percent of kids had experienced some sort of trauma. The pandemic doubled that number.
“All the things they went through with schools closing, parents not being able to work, they are saying 100 percent of our kids have experienced some kind of trauma,” Lewis said.
She is leading the charge to bring mental health care to each campus and it starts with identifying students who could be struggling.
“Sometimes we just see that student sitting in the back of the classroom with their head down as not engaged but really there may be something deeper going on with that student,” Lewis said.
Over the summer, administrators went through a new training called THRIVE offered by the state and brought what they learned to every educator on each campus.
“If we give them tools to identify these students and to know how to take care of these students until we get them the proper help that is going to make a big difference in some of these students lives,” Lewis said.
It’s not just teachers that are learning what can be a sign of a student in need but everyone in the building.
“I got to work with our custodians because that is a group that people may not think of having an impact on students, but those folks are the ones in the schools,” Lewis said. “They are the ones interacting with the students on a daily basis.”
That’s just the first step. The Bryant School District also added another counselor to the junior high and high school campuses and hired two mental health therapists.
“33% of our students indicated they didn’t feel they had access they needed to counselors,” Lewis said.
By making mental health a priority throughout the district, the goal is for all students to know they aren’t alone.
“We need 100% of our students to know that we have programs here for them,” Lewis said. “We have people here for them. We have adults here who care for them and want them to be successful.”
Lewis said this is just the beginning. She hopes to continue to increase mental health training for all staff.