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Fifteen mental health counselors being added to Jefferson schools

By Matthew Glowicki The Courier-Journal

Jefferson County students with some of the most critical behavioral and mental health needs will get additional help this school year.

Jefferson County Public Schools has hired 15 mental health counselors who will help high-risk students - who suffer from things like anxiety, grief and anger problems outside of simple disciplinary issues - and their families.

Officials hope the change will result in fewer classroom disruptions and decrease student barriers to learning. "If a child is having an issue or an episode â ¦ it eats up a lot of my day," said William "B.J." Bunton, principal at Wheatley Elementary School, adding that teachers lose instructional time when they attend to a student experiencing emotional difficulties. Principals indicated in a survey earlier this year that helping high-risk students was a priority.

Bunton said the mental health counselor at his school will act as a constant presence to help remove barriers to student learning. "A lot of times, children don't know how to express what they're going through, so they act out," Bunton said. "They don't have the skills and strategies to cope."

Mental health counselors will be based at these 15 sites: Rutherford, Wheatley, Gilmore Lane/Camp Taylor, Price, Trunnell, Klondike Lane and Blake/Blue Lick elementary schools; Farnsley, Thomas Jefferson and Ramsey middle schools; and Waggener, Valley, ESL Newcomer Academy, Iroquois and Seneca high schools.

The district chose the sites that had the highest number of students who needed in-school counseling. The 15 counselors will cost the district $686,145 from its general fund, according to JCPS counselor specialist Michelle Sircy. The district will evaluate the counselors throughout the year and do an end-of-the-year assessment.

Catching issues earlier in a child's life can prevent problems that could plague them into adulthood, Sircy said. "I think this is a huge step for JCPS in responding to data and the needs of our students and staff," Sircy said. The licensed, trained mental health counselors will work with school counselors to coordinate services.

Paula Cathey, a school counselor at Trunnell Elementary, said she welcomes the addition of mental health counselors and thinks their presence in the schools will help students.

"There are times when we recognize there is a need that is greater than I can support," Cathey said. "We will definitely collaborate and work together, because at the end of the day this support is going to help students so they can be more successful in the class."

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