The Shelby County School District is launching a new initiative aimed at helping promote positive mental health and wellness among students and staff.
The new initiative, Shelby Cares, is part of the district’s overall strategic plan and is a multi-faceted approach to bring awareness to the importance of positive and proactive mental health care and to identify community resources that are available. It will also provide more assistance in three of the six learning support areas — student intervention, support for transitions and crisis assistance and prevention — that the district currently provides through Learning Supports Framework, a systematic approach that has been in place for five years.
“Unfortunately, there are still negative stigmas associated with mental illness,” said Student Services Coordinator Melissa Youngblood. “It is our hope that this effort will help fight the stigma, provide support, educate our stakeholders, and advocate for equal care. One of the ways to end the stigma surrounding mental health and wellness is to start a conversation about it.”
According to Youngblood, the Shelby Cares initiative was motivated by data showing more students than previous years who were at risk for self-harm and struggling with self-care, according to annual assessment data from school counselors. In addition, she said the data documented many younger students, not just high school and middle school students, struggling with managing their emotions.
As a result, an action team of various stakeholders was created to develop the mental health awareness campaign. Additionally, the Instructional Department has launched a year-long focus on Social and Emotional Learning, which will be part of a monthly Professional Learning Unit (PLU) for all administrators and district leaders for the 2018-2019 school year.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
To launch the campaign, district leaders enlisted the help of students and filmed a video explaining the three pillars of the Shelby Cares campaign are “Connect,” “Communicate” and “Care.” For the “Connect” pillar, district leaders want students of all ages to understand the importance of forming positive, healthy relationships and connections.
“Kids need someone they can trust to talk to and share their feelings. Through Shelby Cares, our district will continue to work hard to make schools safe, welcoming, and accepting places where students will feel comfortable building connections with teachers, administrators, counselors, and fellow students,” said Youngblood.
Under the “Communicate” pillar of the campaign, district leaders want students to be able to communicate their needs and reach out for help, whether that is for themselves or for a friend who is struggling. Friends, teachers, and parents are also encouraged to actively listen as students reach out to them to share their feelings and emotions.
The “Care” aspect of the Shelby Cares campaign stresses the importance of caring for one’s self and for others. Self-care, the process of investing in your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being will be emphasized.
“In our video, one of the students makes the point that we would never let their cell phone battery run down, so why do we allow our own batteries to get so run down,” Youngblood said.
Students will also be reminded not to let the distractions of life keep them from seeing the needs of others around them.
“If they are struggling, or they see a friend who is struggling, we want them to care enough to reach out for help,” said Youngblood.
Providing access to resources is also a major component of the campaign and will be highlighted on the district’s website at www.shelbyed.k12.al.us/shelbycares. Those resources include both emergency and non-emergency contacts to crisis centers and counseling services. The Shelby Cares resource page includes phone numbers and links to each organization’s website where additional information and support is available.
The district has also entered into a partnership with Chilton-Shelby Mental Health to provide students and families with mental health services, such as assessment, counseling, and case management. These services will be provided at school, rather than the student have to travel to another location. Mary Parker Phillips will serve as a mental health liaison between Chilton-Shelby Mental Health and the school district to facilitate whatever support services a student needs to be successful.
“Some of our parents, even if they wanted the child to have the opportunity to see a therapist, sometimes there were issues — maybe it was transportation, maybe the parents couldn’t get off work,” Youngblood said. “We are removing those barriers to get services for our students.”