Volusia County School Board pushes Mental Wellness plan


Carson Francis

Introduced in legislation 7026 of the Volusia County School Board, the district welcomes a mental wellness plan on campuses to students starting this current school year. This plan will train teachers to identify signs in students where their mental health is at risk.

The current mental wellness plan consists of mental health assessments, evidence based interventions and treatment plans, recovery services and a coordination plan. The current coordination plan approved as of July 2018 goes as follows:

  1. Five mental health teams including licensed mental health counselors, social workers and school psychologists
  2. Contracted services with Halifax Behavioral Services (HBS), Stewart Marchman ACT (SMA) and ADAPT to provide services to students in VCS
  3. Contracted services with the Spirit Program for care coordination and recovery services
  4. Mental health specialist to coordinate trainings, mental wellness teams, community partnerships and recovery services

“From the legislative point of view, this bill came up very fast,” Coordinator of Student and Government Relations Amy Hall said. “It was definitely in response to what was happening in Parkland and what had occurred. I think our legislators did a really good job in a short amount of time, but I still think there are lots of missing pieces to this legislation.”

The tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018. The events that took place pushed school board members to take action in helping students who show signs of mental health concerns.

“What hit home was Parkland,” Volusia County Superintendent James T. Russell said. “In December, I belonged to a professional organization where all the superintendents in Florida, we meet every quarter. The commissioner of education came in, and this was before Parkland, the MSD (Marjory Stoneman Douglas) report came out, and that’s a hard read. It’s available. What hit home was they gave us a timeline and they said you can stay or you can leave in the next few minutes, and it wasn’t actors. What they caught on film of the violence and the murder that went on there, and I actually saw it and at that point, I knew we had to do certain things. It was like, we got to get serious about this and move forward. That’s what brought it home to me.”

Each Volusia County school will have a minimum of 100,000 dollars to help follow through with the mental wellness plan, which needs to be outlined thoroughly before taking effect. It must outline where all expenditures will also go for treatments and assistance.

“With this upcoming legislative session, I’m hoping to lobby on behalf of our district to get additional funding to continue the hardening of schools and to continue to support mental health,” Hall said. “That is part of our legislative platform right now. We have things we really need to push with our delegation and that is one of them, they really need to fund this.”

School personnel on every campus in the county will be trained by their school’s safety specialist to distinguish mental disorder symptoms among students, as well as how to approach these students that need the help. The school’s safety specialist will also earn or designate other personnel to receive certification as a youth mental awareness and assistance trainer.

“After that, with that training, I believe there will be enough adults that will be able to recognize signs where a student is struggling and can access help for them,” Russell said.  “That’s where I really want see us move next year, where we can identify that student needs someone.”

Florida statute requires all approximate 6,000 employees to complete six hour training. As of Jan. 11, roughly 425 staff members have been trained by Volusia County Schools thus far, with another 100 having signed up for training by the end of January. Training is targeted towards school counselors, administrators, school nurses and other parties.

“That is a big piece, because all of our employees are to be trained with that,” Russell said. “But, I can tell you this; it’s valuable training. I went through this training…and I came out of it with a much greater awareness of things we need to do as adults and even students can do it as well, with what they see in their peers.”

Through the Mental Wellness plan, students can also learn how to help one another if they see something wrong. This learning can take place through open discussions and training if extended to students at a later date.

“I feel it will really help a lot,” sophomore Robin Ntankeh said. “I’m still trying to get better [from depression and anxiety] every single day, stay[ing] positive as always. I feel this will really help me in the future, and other people who also have mental health issues as well.”

A Community Mental Wellness Forum hosted by Volusia County Schools and Halifax Behavioral Services will take place on March 7, at Deltona High School from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. There, students faculty and community members can gather more information on the Mental Wellness plan.

“The idea behind that is it’s going to be open to the entire district and we’re gonna have a bunch of different vendors help so that families can come and get information about the counseling services that are available,” Hall said. “There’s going to be a question and answer and kind of a discussion that’s going to happen.”

School board members encourage community members to learn more about mental wellness and what can how to help at-risk students.

“We do need to open up the training that I went through to the community and to parents,” Russell said. “If society is going to move they have to understand the issues with mental wellness. We see the ramifications with it, you see the opioid epidemic…you are hearing voices out there now. We cannot ignore mental wellness anymore as a society. We have to accept it. People can be helped.”

With open forums and training for Volusia County faculty, this plan allows campuses and extended communities learn all together the differences that can be made with group efforts.

“I hope this mental health wellness program really helps brings our school community together more and leaves us more open to being vulnerable and sensitive to other’s’ feelings, because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings, we all have our bad days, good days, our emotions,” Ntankeh said. “I feel this will really help make us more close together as a student body and help people express their feelings.”