Leading the fight

Pennsbury, St. Mary and Family Service partnered to provide on-site mental health counseling for students and families

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

SOURCE: METRO IMAGES

Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency in the battle against the ever-growing opioid epidemic. But within the Pennsbury School District, educational leaders are making sure their students don’t become another statistic. On Mondays and Fridays, in-house mental health counseling is now available for high school students and their families to help them overcome depression, anxiety and other leading causes of drug use.

The counseling program was launched this month in conjunction with the district’s relatively new Addiction and Mental Health Task Force. Created in August 2017, the task force is divided into multiple subcommittees that address a variety of issues concerning the mental health of Pennsbury students.

According to Sherri Morett, director of special education, free, accessible counseling for students and families was the only missing piece. Previously, the district set them up with an outside service, but often the location and timing were inconvenient, and students were often unable to make their appointments. Now, they don’t even need to leave school.

“This is a key component to the added services that we are providing to our students as a result of our new task force,” said Morett, who is spearheading the program.

Pennsbury’s mental health counseling was made possible thanks to a grant from St. Mary Medical Center to Family Service. Moving forward, the district will work with both partners to build capacity and expand the service beyond high school students to middle and elementary as well.

“Students in crisis require specialized attention, and this partnership enables us to take clinical action as needed. We are truly grateful to our community partners for working with us to provide this new addition to our on-site counseling services,” Morett said. “It was a multiparty effort.”

Pennsbury students are able to take advantage of the new counseling service through a referral process and multi-tier system of support. At the start of this school year, the district signed on with the Caron Foundation to conduct on-site assessments for students who may be in need of help. Referrals made by the Caron representatives will result in the client base for the counseling.

For those students who do require assistance to overcome a mental health disorder, in-house counseling is offered at Pennsbury High School East two days a week. Services are also available to students attending Pennsbury High School West. Counselors will be on hand Mondays from 2 to 6 p.m. to accommodate both students and their working family members, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. just for students.

As Morett and the Pennsbury School District work to grow and enhance the mental health counseling program, the hope is for the growing rate of kids in crisis to significantly decrease. No teen or child should feel the need to cut themselves or turn to drugs as they work to overcome depression or anxiety.

To date, two community forums have been staged for the public with a focus on the theme, “Committed to Life.” The first occurred at Charles Boehm Middle School in October and the second took place at William Penn Middle School in January.

According to Morett, through these educational initiatives and counseling program, Pennsbury is taking the lead in the fight against opioid addiction by focusing on mental health, suicide prevention, drug and alcohol awareness and collaborations with local agencies, such as St. Mary and Family Service. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com