ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) – Roanoke City is one of the few local school districts that will be benefiting from a federal grant to improve mental health services for students and parents are pleased.
“We have so many kids who are coming in from very hard places and when we address those mental health needs, we’re also addressing those educational needs. They go hand in hand: education and mental health,” says Peg McGuire, a Roanoke City Public Schools parent.
The Virginia Department of Education’s five-year, $2.5 million dollar grant will be used for training programs to increase the number of mental health professionals and their quality of service for six high-need school divisions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) had a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders.
“For children of all different ages, they encounter all kinds of stressors just like adults do. There’s marriage, divorce, new siblings at home – all of those things that happen in our normal life have an impact on our ability to learn and our ability to focus on our schoolwork,” says Chris Brown, a counselor at the Roanoke Valley Counseling Center.
As a previous elementary school teacher and school counselor, Brown says he would often see kids struggling with personal issues before school even started.
“Any kind of mental health support in any school is only doing to do good for a student and their academic success and their success in life in general,” says Brown.
The training programs through the new grant will be developed in partnership with several universities, including Virginia Tech and Radford University.
Brown says counseling methods for children are more precise because younger brains are cognitively different than adults.
“Kids, especially young kids, are not verbal in the way that they communicate. Their upset whether it’s anxiety, or depression, or even academic difficulties, so having the ability to have those different modalities in order to work with play therapy, in order to do expressive arts therapy, to bring those modes in really helps kids to tap into ways that they can express themselves in a safe way,” says Brown.
As a parent, McGuire is happy her kids will have the opportunity to access the improved services.
“Being a mom is hard, and when your children have another outlet that they can go to, to say ‘hey I’m having some trouble,’ that’s always a good thing. It takes a village to bring these kids up to be responsible adults and the more help the better,” says McGuire.