While May is Mental Health Month, students' emotional well-being is a priority at the Delaware City Schools throughout the school year, district officials say.

Children can face anxiety and frustration for a number of reasons, said Erica Wood, a director of youth and prevention services for Syntero, a central Ohio-based company that places licensed therapists in the district's schools.

Those factors can include family issues, aggression or stress caused by transition or relationships, she said.

The result can create nonacademic barriers to education, said Delaware Assistant Superintendent Heidi Kegley.

"In order for our students to be successful academically, we need to be paying attention to those other needs that they have," she said.

When such need arises, a Syntero clinician is partnered with a student with the goal of developing trust to "work through what's troubling the student or what's causing those barriers for the child," Kegley said.

"When we see that connection happen, it's amazing to see the growth then the child can have. ... Then they're able to have those coping skills to return to the classroom," she said.

Wood said the services to the school district are funded by Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services. Syntero has 14 licensed therapists in schools in Delaware County and five in Morrow County, each assigned to a specific district.

Delaware Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Executive Director Deanna Brant said the organization paid Syntero $1.23 million for school clinician services in Delaware and Morrow counties in 2019. The Olentangy Local School District contributed directly to that amount to cover three dedicated school clinicians, unlike those who rotate among posts in other districts.

United Way also contributed directly for family counseling provided at Willis Education Center. Those contributions reduced Delaware Morrow Mental Health's cost to $1.1 million in 2019, Brant said.  

Two full-time and two part-time therapists are assigned to Delaware City Schools, she said.

Kegley said student referrals can come from a teacher, principal, support staff member or counselor.

A benefit of the system is that a child can meet with a clinician immediately if necessary, she said.

Wood said a therapist could have up to 10 sessions with a student.

If more counseling is needed, Syntero can refer the family to private counseling services.

Most have sliding-fee scales based on income, she said, and Medicaid will cover counseling. Kegley said all counseling is completed with parental approval.

The district also partners with other agencies as part of its overall effort to maintain student wellness, she said.

One example is a screening conducted by Helpline of Delaware County, designed to identify students at risk for depression or suicide, said Helpline educator Sarah Jefferson.

She said the multiple-choice written screening is administered to health students in seventh and ninth grades in the classroom.

Parents are notified if it's determined intervention is warranted, she said.

Kegley said the district also has the availability of family counseling, outside school hours and conducted at the Willis Education Center.

The district also hosts other preventative and informational programs, she said.

Delaware-Morrow Mental Health will screen a documentary called "Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope" at Willis Education Center at 5 p.m. May 22, for adults only.

In addition, Syntero offers a number of summer group events in the county.

The schedule can be found at tinyurl.com/synterodelaware.

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

Kegley will become the district's superintendent Aug. 1, succeeding Paul Craft, who has accepted a position as CEO of the Metropolitan Educational Technology Association. She said the district has begun its search for a new assistant superintendent.

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