Cheryl Long

Director of Student Services Cheryl Long

Dozens of St. Mary’s students are utilizing the mental health services a contractor for the school system provides.

The St. Mary’s school board recently approved a $66,000 contract extension with the Center for Children, a mental health service provider with offices in Southern Maryland that assists multiple local public schools, mostly elementary. The current contract lasts through Dec. 31, and the newly approved contract stretches from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2020.

“The school system has been incredible to work with,” Catherine Meyers, Center for Children’s executive director, said. “They have really bent over backwards to work with us to accommodate our needs.”

Meyers said mental health services in schools looks just like a normal therapy session. They find a private room and help students who are struggling with their behavior or trauma, for example. The executive director said therapists see about 20 to 30 kids a week — that includes some students who visit more than once a week.

“And depending on school schedules, six kids a day, sometimes five kids a day,” she said.

Meyers, who has been in this line of work for 30 years, said there once was a stigma surrounding mental health services. “Particularly, in rural communities it wasn’t really cool to ask for support,” she said. But it’s become more acceptable to ask for help.

She recommends interventions should start at an early age because there are long-term consequences if a child does not receive help when needed. Meyers said she’s seen younger kids with more issues during the age of mobile phones.

“We’re definitely seeing a change in the kids we see now [compared to] the kids we’ve seen 30 years ago,” she said.

The school board approved Center for Children’s current contract in May. The department of student services did not originally expect for a contract extension at the time but recognized the need for mental health counseling services at several other schools, according to a May school board presentation.

Therapists from the center can be found in Spring Ridge Middle, Lexington Park Elementary, Greenview Knolls Elementary, Piney Point Elementary and Esperanza Middle schools. Meyers said at this time there are vacancies at Ridge Elementary, George Washington Carver Elementary, Margaret Brent Middle and Green Holly Elementary schools they are planning to fill. Each location usually has one therapist.

A portion of Maryland’s Safe to Learn grant, $60,000, was designated for mental health counseling services at multiple schools and approved by the St. Mary’s school board in November 2018. Center for Children employees already worked in the St. Mary’s school system, but money from the grant allowed them to increase their hours, which led to the official contract.

Meyers said the partnership began at least four years ago when a former Lexington Park Elementary principal told her the students could use some help. “And then it became word of mouth,” she added. Cheryl Long, director of the school system’s student services, said counseling services are available at every school.

“Students are able to access the services from school counselors, social workers, and contracted counselors,” she said in an email.

Long added that counselors tackle multiple topics including mediating conflict, conflict resolution, anger management, time management, college and career planning, relationships, LGBTQ issues, self-image, stress and addressing grief.

The director of student services also noted the school system receives assistance from the Evening Counseling Center, which is staffed by school counselors and provides counseling, social skills training and other interventions to St. Mary’s public school students and parents by appointment once a week at Great Mills High School.

Twitter: @KristenEntNews

Twitter: @KristenEntNews