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Ohio County Schools Focusing on Students’ Mental Health

August 29, 2018 | By Joselyn King

Classrooms in Ohio County Schools now have “calm down boxes,” complete with crayons, a feather, a scented candle and whatever else helps students to regulate their energies.

Ohio County Schools hosted Tuesday a “mental health open house” at Middle Creek Elementary School, during which the community learned of programs being offered by the school district to students displaying behavioral and mental health issues.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is funding Expanded School Mental Health programs for 40 schools across West Virginia, including four in Ohio County — Middle Creek, Madison, Elm Grove and Woodsdale elementary schools. A similar program also is being funded by Youth Services System at Triadelphia Middle School, said Middle Creek Elementary Counselor Pam Fazzini.

The initiative provides programming for mental health treatment at three different levels.

“Tier 1” services are directed to all students in the school, and are intended to help students early and avoid more intensive counseling later, said Fazzini. Students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade are being serviced, and they are provided mental-health based classroom curriculum and lessons once a week.

The young students learn about things that are “scary” and “inappropriate “ — such as improper touching that makes them uncomfortable. They are given advice on how to best handle those situations.

“A lot of times, they don’t get those conversations at home,” Fazzini said. “It gives those kids an outlet into knowing what to do when those things happen, because we know those things are happening. We want to make sure our kids are educated, and they know what to do.”

There also is an emphasis on helping children to learn to regulate their own behavior, she said.

At Middle Creek Elementary, students are receiving awards for attendance, completing their homework and getting good grades.

Those who don’t achieve their behavioral goals don’t get to partake in the award sessions, Fazzini said. They are instead taken elsewhere in the school where they talk with counselors about why they are not showing up for school on time or completing their homework, and how they can do better.

Tier 2 counseling is for those children who need intervention, and have been identified as having academic, behavioral and emotional needs. This counseling usually takes place in small group settings, and the consent of a parent or guardian is needed.

Tier 3 help is for students with pervasive behavioral health needs, and treatment typically includes psychiatric counseling.

Fazzini said there is a growing number of mental health issues among school children, which she attributed to the opioid epidemic in the state and many students being raised by people other than their biological parents.

“They are learning self-regulation, coping and communication skills,” she said of the students.

A child dealing with a mental issue typically wants to be isolated, according to Fazzini. They are sad, anxious and withdrawn.

“At the other end, there are children who are lashing out,” she said. “They don’t know what else to do.”

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