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School district makes mental health awareness a priority

Posted: 7:47 PM, Aug 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-14 23:47:54Z

As students in Collier County head back to class Wednesday, the Collier County Public School District is busy hiring more specialists to help kids struggling with mental health issues. CCPS is in the process of hiring seven more psychologists, for a total of 31 in the district, as well as additional social workers.

The 2017/2018 school was turbulent for kids in Collier County. Many were affected the damage from Hurricane Irma in September, while others felts the effects of the the school shooting in Parkland. The sheriff's office investigated more than two dozen threats to Collier schools in the two weeks following that deadly shooting. They normally check into less than a dozen in a typical school year.

"We were already working very closely with the schools to address the mental health needs of students," said Nancy Dauphinais, chief operating officer of the David Lawrence Center in Naples. "We just intensified those efforts after Parkland."

Now CCPS is spending over $1 million to hire enough psychologists to have one at each of the district's high schools, and five middle schools. The school district is also hiring eight social workers with training in crisis prevention and intervention.

"The social workers are going to be all new," said Kamela Patton, CCPS superintendent. "We had them just for our students with disabilities in the past, but now it's expanding to everybody."

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said that his deputies who will be working as school resource officers will be able to enhance the schools' efforts in tackling mental health issues.

"We've done additional training," Rambosk said. "Both tactical training, and crisis intervention training for mental health."

Dauphinais believes it's up to everyone in the school system to help students who might be vulnerable to too much pressure.

"Teachers and cafeteria workers and bus drivers...everybody has to be more aware of behavioral health, and the needs that folks have when somebody might be struggling," she said.

A spokesman with Collier County Public Schools said in an email to Fox 4 that it's been difficult filling their psychologist positions, since every other district in Florida is also hiring them, but feels confident that they will be able to fill those jobs.

The district is also implementing programs such as Buddy Benches and We Dine Together in its schools, in which students will look for classmates who might seem alone, and try to make them feel more included.