Ohio County Schools counselors are committed to the mental wellbeing of their students, and the Ohio County Board of Education was recently updated on the success of the schools’ mental-health efforts.
Woodsdale Elementary School counselor Allyson Kangisser spoke at the board’s Sept. 27 meeting and discussed the school system’s Expanded School Mental Health (ESMH) program. She explained that ESMH involves schools, families and community partners working together to improve mental health support by building upon programs schools already provide. Kangisser said the program is important in developing skills that support strong mental health and includes prevention (of mental health problems), early intervention and treatment.
Kangisser said Ohio County Schools’ ESMH program was implemented in 2009, and she has worked with Elm Grove Counselor Heather Hines, Middle Creek Counselor Pam Fazzini and Madison Counselor Jessica Watt-Dougherty on the program since 2017. She noted the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has identified the Ohio County Schools ESMH program as a model for other communities to replicate, and the counselors have been invited by the West Virginia Department of Education and Marshall University to present as guest speakers and serve on panels in regard to mental health matters.
“Our school system is doing a great job in advocating for students,” Kangisser said. “We are getting our children the services they need, and for that reason people want to hear what we have to say. We are educating parents and communities about what is possible, and we want to celebrate all the services we are able to provide for our students.
“As counselors, we have excellent collaboration,” she added. “It’s about working together, and I have people that I can rely on. We communicate every week, and we really support each other.”
Kangisser said the ESMH program involves three tiers. Tier one’s primary focus is mental health, wellness promotion and prevention. The school delivers programs and services that support the growth of the whole child and build skills to ensure success in class, at home and in the community.
Tier two’s goal is to keep students in school, and it provides targeted support for at-risk students who are identified with behavioral, academic, attendance and social or emotional needs. These services are provided in group and individual activities that target specific areas such as communication, social skills, substance abuse, anger, stress and even mild mood concerns.
The goal of tier three is to help youth overcome limitations that impair academic and social functioning. Tier three services include intensive therapeutic interventions that are provided by community mental health professionals in a school setting during the school day.
Kangisser said she is proud of what Ohio County Schools has accomplished with its Expanded School Mental Health program and for the ways in which it will continue to benefit students.
“There are children suffering with mental health issues,” Kangisser said. “We focus on academics, but we also need to focus on mental health, because a healthy child is a child who can learn.”