Athens City Schools will now have another link in the chain when it comes to maintaining students' well-being.
The Alabama State Department of Education has decided to launch a new school-based mental health service coordinator pilot program. According to the group's website, ALSDE appropriated $4,530,000 to provide grants to schools to employ a MHSC to “support and expand coordination of mental health services throughout their school system.”
ACS is one of several school districts around Alabama to receive the funding. As such, the school system has welcomed Mikayla Reese, a licensed master social worker, as its first ever mental health services coordinator.
“It feels great to be in such an important position,” Reese said. “Mental health has become such a focal point in our society, and many students are affected by mental health concerns. I think it's great that Alabama has decided to implement this position into school systems.”
According to Reese, she will act as a liaison between the school and community agencies for students and families in need of mental health resources.
“We are seeing a wide variety of student issues, such as anxiety and depression, and we know that the pandemic has caused additional stress,” said Interim Superintendent Beth Patton. “Having someone who can focus on mental health wellness and connect families to needed resources is a huge benefit for ACS. We are thrilled to welcome Mikayla in this role.”
While the position is similar to a school counselor, Reese said counselors have more administrative responsibilities among their duties, while a MHSC “focuses solely on mental health and wellness of a student.”
“Mental health is very important in the wellness of a person in general,” Reese said. “If a student's mental health isn't great, they may not perform as highly as they should in school, and they may not interact with their peers like they are supposed to.”
One major issue impacting the school year for students has been complications created by COVID-19, but Reese said this is another area in which her new position will be able to help.
“I believe the pandemic is causing everyone anxiety, especially students having to learn how to navigate those online apps and how to teach themselves online. I'm trying to connect with students who are not only in school, but virtual as well.”
Reese said her goal in the new position is to support students in any way they need to “help them break down any barriers that may hinder them from performing as highly as they need to and to provide them with the resources they need to be successful in school.”