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New school year brings new mental health and wellness initiatives to district

New school year brings new initiatives. (WPEC){p}{/p}{p}{/p}
New school year brings new initiatives. (WPEC)

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Now that school is back in session, students in Palm Beach County will notice a lot of new faces with hundreds of new hires, all with one goal in mind; to make their mental health and wellness a top priority.

Over the summer, teachers and staff underwent extensive training when it comes to how to spot a student in trouble and, if so, what they can do to help.

“The staff, the custodians, the school cafeteria people, the bus drivers; they know the students, they see them every day. So they are really on the forefront to see any kind of behavioral changes in a student,” said Mary Claire Mucenic, the Director of Behavioral and Mental Health Services.

Mucenic’s position was created this year. She’ll lead a brand-new department, one that includes 170 behavioral health professionals.

“They are providing individual, group, and school-wide positive behavioral support so they are really there, their boots are on the ground, as part of the school problem-solving team,” she said. “They’re there to assist in a variety of different ways.”

Using money from the state and dollars generated by the county’s penny tax, the district also hired 40 additional psychologists, expanded their mobile mental health teams known as CAPE, and contracted an additional 60 mental health counselors, allowing one to be stationed at every school.

Lawmakers also recently passed a new state mandate, requiring at least five hours of courses related to mental health and wellness to be taught to all students in grade six through twelve. This goes into effect this year.

It’s a move the district says they’ve already been planning for.

“We’ve had substance abuse training in schools, we’ve had suicide prevention awareness. So a lot of the components of the required training have already been in place for a number of years”

Many of these new initiatives are a direct response to the Parkland school shooting in 2018.

Mucenic says parents also play a key role in the district’s efforts to tackle mental health and wellness.

She says the number one thing parents should be on the lookout for is any major change in their child behavior, like if they suddenly become withdrawn or suffer a big slip in their grades; she says it could be an indication that something more serious going on with them.

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