Students support teams to
focus on mental health
By Suzanne Dean
MT. PLEASANT—The North Sanpete School District is setting up teams at the school and district levels to address the mental health needs of students and their families.
At a school board meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, Elise Hanson, a counselor serving the elementary schools in the district, reported a district-level team, the Student Support Team, was now in place.
And, she said, teams were starting to organize in schools, such as a group called the Positive Behavior Intervention Support (PBIS) team at Moroni Elementary.
Student mental health has become a concern in schools statewide in the past couple of years. In 2019, the Utah Legislature passed a special appropriation of $16 million to help schools hire more nurses, social workers and psychologists.
With its share of the appropriation, the North Sanpete district hired one part-time nurse as well as Cindy Lund, a social service worker who had been with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services for more than 20 years.
Then at the beginning of the current year, the district brought on Kami Walker, who is an intern working on licensure as a school psychologist.
The Student Support Team includes Hanson, the elementary counselor; Kami Millett, counselor at North Sanpete Middle School; and Heather Allred, Ben Cox and John Hafen, counselors at North Sanpete High School.
Other team members include Chaleyce Shelley, special education coordinator for the district; Chelsea Beck, coordinator of the district pre-school, Lund, whose title with the district is Student and Parent Support Coordinator; and Walker, the school psychologist.
At the school level, support teams will typically include the principal, a counselor or counselors, and selected teachers.
Formal teams are “just a little better way to coordinate our expertise,” Superintendent Nan Ault said in an interview.
The idea is for the teams to meet regularly to talk about students who are having problems and decide what the district can do to help them and their families.
If a school team can come up with actions to take within the school, the case ends there. If not, the school team can refer to the district-level team.
“If there’s been an increase in absenteeism or a severe drop in grades, it’s often an indication that something is going on,” said O’Dee Hansen, assistant superintendent.
The underlying problem could be a death in the family, a suicide of someone close to the student, or simply inadequate food in the home.
Hansen said interventions could range from providing food from the Sanpete Pantry for a child to take home for the weekend to arranging for a clinical social worker from the Central Utah Counseling Center (CUCC) to meet the parents and students at the school and begin family counseling.
Once a relationship is established, counseling can continue at CUCC headquarters in Ephraim.
Having people assigned to identify and talk about student mental health problems “opens up doors of understanding,” Hansen said.
The student support team can inform teachers about the problems, and “with the knowledge of what’s going on, teachers are able to help [students] more.”