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Schools focus on mental health as students return to class

Mental health resources at Discovery Key Elementary School in Palm Beach County during the 2023-23 academic year.PNG
Posted at 6:26 AM, Aug 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-09 06:31:22-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — As local school districts prepare to welcome students back to campus, there is a continued focus on mental health and free resources for children.

There are colorful signs and displays throughout Discovery Key Elementary School in Palm Beach County.

"We don't wait for a mental health crisis. We are always being proactive," principal Julie Walker said.

Walker showed WPTV the school's Calming Mantra Wall displaying inspirational, hand-written notes from students. One reads, "Everyone get nervous. Challenges help me become a stronger person."

Palm Beach County School District leaders said there are behavioral health professionals at all of the district's 175 schools.

WPTV met behavioral health specialist at Discovery Key Elementary Taylor Hoover.

"I love it here," Hoover said.

Hoover created a Taco Tuesday inspired walk-up stand.

"Students have the opportunity to self-refer and advocate for themselves by coming forward with any problems they're experiencing at home or at school," Hoover said. "It's definitely caught on."

Co-located mental health therapists support the need for more consistent help at 100 campuses in Palm Beach County.

"A good day for me is when I see somebody achieve their potential that they might not have known they had," said Smita Chand, a co-located therapist from the Center for Child Counseling, working at Discovery Key Elementary. "I think what we often underestimate is how much children are absorbing and how much they hold back."

The Center for Child Counseling has robust advice posted on its website about how to start a conversation with a child potentially in crisis.

Co-located therapists provide up to 12 free sessions on campus and then create a longer-term plan for the student, if needed.

In Indian River County public schools, a district spokesperson said the most utilized resource on campuses is the mental health referral system they've established.

In Okeechobee County schools, a district spokesperson said the most utilized resources are crisis counselors for assessment and consultation, agency referrals, and mentoring.

In Martin County public schools, a district spokesperson said counseling services are heavily used.

For schools in St. Lucie County, a district spokesperson said the most utilized mental health resources are counselors, school social workers, and counselors who provide individual and group counseling on campuses. The district is working to bring a co-located therapy model to complement the mental health services already in place.