Boone County schools to address mental health issues


Grace Dorsey

art by Joy Park
Teachers across Boone County, including those here, filled out a checklist throughout the month. They answered questions regarding behavioural issues for each student in all of their classes in order to spot otherwise undetected problems.
The process was a part of a broader initiative to increase mental health care in all Boone County school districts by the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition. All of the superintendents in the county along with researchers from Mizzou in the departments of School Psychology, Social Work, Counseling Psychology make up the group responsible for the changes.  
“There will be anything from small groups with guidance staff to some consultation of teachers,” Becca Williams, Regional Coordinator  said. “[There will also be] consultations with families and connecting families if need be with outside resources to help their children.”
Coordinators instructed teachers to score students on a number of mental health concerns in order to see if the student had any big picture problems. The coalition will use the information to identify concerns on both a student level and on a school-wide level and then use techniques based on the evidence collected to solve problems effectively according to the coalition’s website,
Peter Willett, a geometry teacher, filled out the survey and agrees it will help RBHS students.
“This wasn’t a way to punish kids. It was a way for them to look and say,‘Hey, all but one of these teachers saw that this is an area where this students has struggles. This is where we can focus our help’,” Willett said. “The hope is we’ll be able to help kids who otherwise would fall through the cracks. I’m optimistic, and I think this is part of a broader push to recognize mental health, not just at the school, district or state level.”
The group received funding earlier this month through the Boone County Children’s Service Fund, which obtained the money from a sales tax. The coalition’s efforts include prevention, intervention of mental health issues and collaboration with guidance and administration staff all in order to strengthened Boone County school’s mental health program.
Outreach counselor Lesley Thalhuber looks forward to the extra help, increased funding and overall improved curriculum.
“I think Boone County is really fortunate that our taxpayers agreed to fund a mental health tax which has helped create the Mental Health Coalition,” Thalhuber said. I know that I’ve felt a lot more support in my role as a mental health specialist in the building just from having a coordinator that has access to funds for the curriculum. It’s especially prudent for rural areas of Boone County who don’t have the access that we do”
Increased help for counselors is just one of the positive outcomes, Williams expects the program will reach out and help everyone involved, especially the students.
“This is the first [school based mental health program] for Columbia and it helps to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and mental services,” Williams said. “We really hope it encourages students to be unafraid of seeking help for mental health concerns and being comfortable talking to others about them.”