The Westerville City School District has been shining a light on services offered to students and families in recognition of Mental Health Month.

Since 1949, Mental Health America and affiliates across the country have led the observance of May as Mental Health Month and encouraged others to conduct awareness activities, according to its website, mentalhealthamerica.net.

"Our team of professionals recognizes that children come to school from a variety of circumstances," said Tami Santa, student-assistance programs coordinator for the district.

"Everyone is committed to meeting the needs of the whole child and understands that student learning is best supported by maintaining positive relationships between family, school and the community."

She said it takes a focused effort involving many people to create a safe, caring and supportive learning environment for students.

"We've made it a priority to begin building the awareness of our families about how to access the services available to them," said John Kellogg, district superintendent. "We continue to work with local resources and have expanded our capacity to support the social-emotional needs of our school populations."

Just this year, Kellogg said, the district added another mental-health specialist to support the high schools, and two counselors were added at the elementary level.

"At the middle school level, four full-time clinicians are available to assist students and families on a daily basis," he said. "We also benefit from a great partnership with Concord Counseling. Honestly, if a student or family needs support, the best place for them to start is our counselors."

Santa said the district has worked hard to develop relationships among the schools, community safety agencies, and mental- and physical-health agencies.

"Everyone works extremely well together, and our collective efforts help contribute to the overall well-being of our youth," she said. "We put a lot of trust in every single person from our students to our staff. If something seems odd, we bring it to the attention of others."

Over the past couple of years in Westerville, Santa said, the district has been making sure mental wellness and well-being are in the forefront.

She said that focus continues to allow the district more access to see students and families and direct them to the correct resource they might need.

"That has been a huge priority for our district and backed by our community," Santa said. "To see that building is incredibly motivating and validating."

She said it's comforting to be able to tell any parent to contact the school counselor or social worker.

"We're working in the same direction to get inside or outside support if needed," Santa said. "We have created a better system over the last several years in our buildings to keep a specific record of students coming in and out of student services."

She said the district also puts a focus on a sense of belonging and positive adult interactions.

"We facilitate that sense of (connectivity) and increase that want to attend school and sense of belonging," she said. "At the end of day, we want to improve mental health and student well-being."

The district has several programs that are provided through the Sandy Hook Promise, including Say Something and Start with Hello, encouraging messages of inclusiveness and being kind.

Sandy Hook Promise is a nonprofit organization led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

"The foundations of those programs are connectivity," Santa said.

She said the district is working on a parent- or community-engagement opportunity for next school year.

"We hope to get the final touches on a community survey at the end of the school year to collect information on what parents are seeing, and we'll ask parents what they need for students to be more successful," she said. "We'll gather that information and have the summer to digest it and come up with ways to respond. We hope that will help us meet the needs they identify."

The district also provides services and referrals regarding bereavement, homelessness, emergency resources; district, local and national resources and immediate support.

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mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla