LOWELL – Two new mental health professionals will soon be part of Lowell Public Schools, serving students and staff.
At Wednesday’s school committee meeting, committee members unanimously approved a director of mental health and social-emotional learning services, as well as a district mental health support specialist/ district-wide behaviour/SEL.
According to Director of Studies Robin Desmond, both positions are funded through a grant obtained by the district. The grant is $300,000 in total and the district can apply for funding over the next three years.
The positions will report to Desmond, despite committee member Stacey Thompson’s suggestion that the positions had more of an equity component than an academic component.
Committee member Eileen Del Rossi spoke about her own experience as a mother.
“I can tell you from personal experience that my son is on a waiting list and it’s been a long time,” Del Rossi said.
Committee member Jackie Doherty added that she was “pleased” to see the positions presented to the committee, also acknowledging the need for support within the district.
“I hear that not only are community organizations putting people on waiting lists for mental health services, but they’re also not accepting new patients,” Doherty said. “So we really have to build that system on the inside to provide those services to our students and to help our staff, because they’re all going through the same anxiety and stress that everyone else is going through during the pandemic, and then going to the school and trying to teach students. who face trauma and concerns. ”
Desmond said the grant builds on the district’s priorities of assessing mental health, developing multi-level systems to support mental health, and ensuring sustainability through community supports.
In addition to funding two new positions, Desmond said the grant allows Lowell Public Schools to seek out a community organization to provide mental health services when students are not in school.
“We hope this RFP will produce community organizations that can work with us to be able to provide better access for our students,” Desmond said.
One of the candidates for the tender is a telehealth agency, which would be able to support students virtually.
Additionally, Desmond said the grant helps expand the work Elevate New England is doing to mentor students as Tier 2 supports and will help teachers work with social workers to develop Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions. for students.
The grant also allows the district to purchase a mental health screening tool and adds a social-emotional component that can gather information about how students are supported in school.
Superintendent of Schools Joel Boyd added that the positions are in addition to the $3 million in support the district received last year for mental health services. This $3 million is available to bring in school social workers and mental health personnel.
“Unfortunately, due to staffing shortages and shortages across the country and in all industries, many of these positions have yet to be filled even though they have been posted and recruited,” Boyd said. .
Boyd clarified that the two new positions focus on students’ “therapeutic needs” and that the current social and emotional learning coordinator works on the curriculum side.